The defending Cape Cod baseball champions were jockeying for playoff position in the East Division.
Enter Ben Bowden, a hard-throwing 6-foot-4, 225-pound southpaw out of Lynn who is entering his junior year at Vanderbilt University. This summer, he has been a trusted arm out of the Y-D bullpen.
Peter Alonso, batting cleanup for the Bourne Braves, connected on Bowden’s 2-1 offering Tuesday night, and hit a deep drive to right field at Red Wilson Field.
With the crowd anxiously following the ball, right fielder Cole Billingsley calmly drifted back and made the catch just in front of the wall.
In the front row of the right field bleachers, a young fan in a Red Sox hat stood up and cheered.
“They still haven’t scored on him, Dad,” said the youngster.
“That’s right. He still hasn’t given up any runs,” said his father. “And that’s probably about as close as they’re going to get.”
Bowden, in the midst of an impressive stretch, fired a pair of hitless innings, striking out four, in what was an eventual 5-3 loss in 10 innings.
“He’s been a mainstay in the bullpen since he got here,” said Pickler. “I think he’s going to pitch in the big leagues. he’s got the makeup for it and I think he has the drive to do it.”
Activated by the Red Sox on July 3, Bowden has fanned 26, walked six, and yielded five hits and no runs in 14⅔ innings.
“Everyone at the level we’re at has great ability; they can all play,” said Bowden. “Obviously, it’s the best competition in the country, so you have to be on your game every time out there.”
Bowden is enjoying this summer playing relatively close to home, where his family can easily come down to watch him play.
The Lynn English High School graduate has become more relaxed on the mound after pitching for a Vanderbilt squad that has made back-to-back appearances in the College World Series.
“I didn’t expect to win the College World Series in my first year at Vandy, but it definitely helped me as a pitcher,” said Bowden. “Being able to pitch in that kind of a game helped me appreciate that I still get to just go out there and play baseball.”
While the Cape League may not be as high-profile as the College World Series in Omaha, the experience facing a number of the nation’s top collegians is invaluable.
“My pitching ability has gotten better,” said Bowden, who also credited the Red Sox defense behind him. He has come into his own this summer after working on his mechanics with Scott Brown, the pitching coach at Vanderbilt.
“I’m better able to understand how my body works, how my arm works.”
Last summer, he spent time with the Plymouth Pilgrims of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
“The mental part is huge now,” said Bowden. “If I give up a home run, if I give up a run-scoring double, I have to get past it and move on and still throw the best pitches I can.”
Bowden is not the only pitcher who has made the jump from the NECBL to the Cape.
Reading High graduate Scott Tully, a rising junior at Notre Dame, logged 24⅔ innings for the New Bedford Bay Sox last summer.
This summer, he is in the starting rotation for the Harwich Mariners, where the 6-foot lefty has a 3.69 ERA in 39 innings. He has recorded a team-high 36 strikeouts.
Like Bowden, Tully credits his improvements partially to the jump in competitiveness.
“Guys in the Cape batting the seventh, eighth, or ninth, they might bat third or fourth for their schools,” said Tully. “The competition is just better, and it shows.”
After being limited to five innings as a freshman at Notre Dame, Tully responded with an increased workload: 4-4 and a 3.17 ERA in 65⅓ innings, both as a starter and in relief.
“Whatever role they decide to put me in, I just have to go out and do my best at it and put my team in the best position to win,” said Tully. “I’ve thrown almost 40 innings on the Cape now, and at no point have I felt overwhelmed.”
Tully also understands that with the higher competition in the Cape league comes a greater opportunity to be drafted.
“It’s maximum exposure,” said Tully. “You get scouts seeing you every day against the best competition.”
His goal, like that of any other player, is a shot at the majors. He is confident of his future in the game, but is ready to accept whatever happens.
“The longer you’re in baseball, the more you realize there’s an end point,” said Tully. “The goal is to take the career as far as my skill set will take me.”
Last weekend, he was in Cooperstown, N.Y., joining Harwich and Notre Dame teammate Cavan Biggio for the induction of his father, former Houston Astros great Craig Biggio, into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
In June, Bowden watched Vandy roommates Dansby Swanson and Carson Fulmer go first and eighth, respectively, in the Major League Baseball draft.
He hopes to hear his name called one day.
“If professional baseball is there for me, I’ll take it and run with it,” said Bowden. “If not, I’ll have a fantastic degree and will still be just as happy.”
Around the bases
Five players making their mark in summer baseball leagues:
Brad Applin , Malden: In 12 appearances covering 20 innings, the University of Rhode Island righthander has compiled a 2-1 mark with one save and a 2.21 earned run average for the Ocean State Waves in the NECBL.
Paul Covelle , Medford: Taking the hill for the Keene Swamp Bats in the NECBL, the Franklin Pierce righty has fanned 20 in 22⅓ innings with a 1.61 ERA and three saves.
Dustin Hunt , Andover: In seven appearances, including four starts, the 6-foot-5 Northeastern hurler has struck out 27, walked just five, and compiled a 3.85 ERA.
Tyler McVicar , Melrose: A rising senior third baseman at Elon, he is hitting .269 with two homers and seven RBIs for the Laconia Muskrats of the NECBL.
Blaise Whitman , Salisbury: Another righty from Rhody, the Triton Regional grad has 24 Ks in 32⅓ innings for the Ocean State Waves in the NECBL.Dan McLoone can be reached at email@example.com.