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Magical season by Cumming comes to an end as Schooners lose in NECBL playoffs

Groton — Brendan Cumming’s pre-game routine includes visualizing his at-bats. He grabs his bat, imagines the pitcher on the mound and takes some swings.

“Visualization is a big thing for me,” Cumming said. “I started doing it my senior year in high school. It just made sense to do it, to put yourself in a game-like situation before the game so once you get in the game you’ve been there before and you can perform to the best of your ability.”

It's hard to imagine Cumming having more success than's he's had this summer.

Cumming, a leadoff batter and all-star selection, set a Mystic Schooner single-season franchise record with a .398 batting average while leading the team in hits (53) and runs scored (36). He helped Mystic earn the No. 3 seed in the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Southern Division.

“He’s been an on-base machine,” said Mystic manager Phil Orbe, who coached the previous record holder Stephen Laurino, who hit .381 in 2014. “He puts a little pressure on himself, which really makes him be really sharp mentally. He’s expecting to get a hit or get a barrel every time. When he doesn’t, he’s not happy about it.”

Orbe texted Laurino, who is now a physical education teacher at his alma mater on Long Island, with the news.

Tuesday’s single elimination wild-card playoff game against Ocean State featured the league’s top two hitters in Cumming and Ocean State’s Travis Honeyman (Boston College), who hit a league record .430.

Unfortunately for Mystic (23-19-1), it made a quick exit, ending the season with a 9-2 loss at Fitch High School. Ocean State’s Nicholas Cimillo (Rutgers) belted a three run home run in the sixth to break a 2-2 tie. He finished with two home runs and four RBI.

Mystic entered the game playing its best baseball of the summer. The Schooners’ offense heated up in the last month during which they’ve batted .290, led by Cumming. They managed seven hits on Tuesday and made four errors.

Cumming’s lofty average this season is even more impressive considering he had only six at-bats at Princeton as a freshman in 2020 before the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Ivy League season. The Ivy League called off the 2021 season.

The lack of game action in college certainly didn’t hurt Cumming, who reached base in a team-best 27 straight games and also owned a 12-game hitting streak. He also stole 12 bases and played stellar defense in the outfield, preventing two home runs with leaping catches.

Cumming is durable as well, playing in his team-high 36th game on Tuesday.

“It’s been a lot of training and finally getting to see the hard work pay off and play some real baseball,” said Cumming, who’s from Houston. “Thankfully, I’ve been able to play well this summer. I’ve just got to give thanks to God for the blessings that he’s given me this summer.”

Orbe decided to sign the outfielder based on a recommendation from Princeton coach Scott Bradley.

“Obviously, it’s worked out very well for us and for Brendan,” Orbe said. “He has a routine that he goes through every pre-game. I don’t know if it is to the extreme of a Wade Boggs where he takes ground balls at this time. But he’s very focused and very mature, particularly for a younger guy.”

Even the best hitters need a break every once in a while and Cumming’s got one leading off the first inning, hitting a hard grounder off pitcher Nicholas Payero’s leg that rolled in right field for a single. Cumming ended up scoring on Barry Walsh’s fielder’s choice for a 1-0 lead. Danny Crossen’s sacrifice fly increased the lead to 2-0.

East Lyme graduate Trystan Levesque (Rhode Island), one of Mystic’s most reliable pitchers this season, earned the start.

Levesque cruised through the first three innings before giving up solo home runs to Slade Wilks (Southern Miss) and Cimillo (Rutgers) in the fourth to tie the score. He finished strong, stranding a runner on third in the fifth before departing. He allowed three hits overall, walking one and striking out six while throwing 88 pitches.

Jonathan Velazquez (Stetson) came on in relief and created his own trouble by walking the first two batters. Cimillo took advantage, belting a three-run home run over the left field fence.

The Schooners couldn’t cash in on their chances, leaving two runners on in the sixth and the bases loaded in the seventh. Austin Kopack (Rhode Island) pitched a scoreless ninth, meaning that he’s played all nine positions this season.

They extended their consecutive playoff appearance streak to eight straight seasons, the longest active run in the NECBL.

“Regardless of what happens tonight or the next 10 days, the season has been a rousing success,” Orbe said before the game.

It’s hard to say where Cumming will be playing baseball next summer. He’s open to returning to the Schooners, if everything works out. He finished 2 for 4 with a walk in the season finale.

“Being up here in the Northeast, I’m from Texas, so it’s a bit of a change,” Cumming said. “My host family, the Campbells, have been great. They’ve welcomed me and been a great host family. They’ve made it easy for me just to focus on baseball. So I’ve really enjoyed this summer here.”

“... Thanks to coach Orbe and coach (Dennis) Long for taking me in this summer, taking a chance on me because I haven’t had a college season.”

g.keefe@theday.com

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