by Patrick Sanderson, Erin Byard and Noah Ziegler
Top Ten Thursdays is a weekly bigtrain.tv show that highlights the top 10 games in Bethesda Big Train history, as voted on by team historian Bill Hickman, manager Sal Colangelo and founder Bruce Adams. As each game is unveiled, we will bring you a written flashback here on bigtrain.org.
Host Alex Drain, with the help of Colangelo and various guests, will break down each game, as those involved discuss what they remember and the significance of each contest. Each episode will serve as a flashback to classic moments in Big Train history, in lieu of actual games during the 2020 summer.
#8 – July 10, 2009: Big Train 4, Youse's Maryland Orioles 3
Adkins walks it off in the 11th inning
The Big Train hosted Youse’s Maryland Orioles to a packed house for this battle between the top two Ripken League teams.
The two teams had developed an ongoing rivalry: Bethesda took the Ripken League regular season title in 2005 and 2006 and the Orioles took it in 2007 and 2008. Their competition continued in 2009, with Big Train only two games ahead of the Orioles on July 10.
The Orioles took flight early, going up 2-0 in the top of the first against Big Train starter Seth Hester (Southern Mississippi). Big Train responded quickly in the bottom of the inning to bring the score to 2-1, when Eli Boike (Michigan State) singled and then scored on an Oriole error.
After a solo homerun in the third extended the Orioles’ lead, Jarrod Parks (Mississippi State) drove in Boike on a single to cut the deficit to 3-2. Parks came through again in the sixth inning, this time in the field, when he made the defensive play of the game, and possibly of the year, diving into left field with full extension to make a catch just inches off the ground.
“I had to get every bit of distance I could to make it to this ball,” noted Parks. The play energized the team and set the stage for a late rally.
The Big Train finally evened the score in the bottom of the seventh on an double by Danny Stienstra (San Jose State) which scored Boike once again, in fitting fashion. Nolan Rudman (Ventura College) entered in the eighth to take over for Hester and went on to pitch four no-hit innings.
With neither team’s pitchers caving, the game went to extra innings.
Bethesda started the 11th inning with a Connor Bernatz (San Francisco) single. He advanced to second on a wild throw, and then to third on a sacrifice bunt. After two intentional walks, Luke Adkins (Mississippi State), the leading hitter in the Ripken League at the time, found himself up to bat with one out and bases loaded. He drove the ball over the right fielder's head and the crowd went wild as Bernatz crossed home with the winning run.
The 4-3 victory moved the Big Train three games clear of the Orioles, and they went on to win the regular season title. The team carried this momentum into the postseason, as they captured their first-ever outright Ripken League postseason championship.
“2009 was the most memorable summer of my life. That team was so fun, and we were so close, such a tight knit bunch... We played with so much enthusiasm,” Parks said.
#9 – July 30, 2004: Big Train 4, Herndon Braves 3
Late rally helps Big Train toward first Clark Griffith League title
The Herndon Braves met the Big Train at Shirley Povich Field for this late July game. The stakes were high as ever, as the Big Train entered the game tied with Herndon for the lead in the regular season standings. Winning the regular season title would be huge for Bethesda, as then-assistant coach Sal Colangelo put it: “We had come so close every year … we just felt this was our year.”
Casey Baron (Maryland) started the game on the mound for the Big Train, facing off against a strong Herndon offense. The game remained scoreless until the top of the third, when the Braves plated a run on a walk and two singles. An inning later, the Braves increased their lead to 3-0 on a solo homer and a bases-loaded walk.
After plating one in the fourth, Big Train brought the score to 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth when Jonnie Knoble (San Francisco) stepped up, as he had many times before for this team, doubling and then coming around to score.
“The one thing in common from these important games in the era when we played is Jonnie’s in the middle of it somewhere, either on defense, baserunning or offensively,” noted teammate Greg Lemon (Salisbury).
Russell Durfee (Duke) then entered the game to relieve Baron. Colangelo stated that bringing in Durfee was an attempt to get the Herndon offense “off-balance”. This strategy proved effective as he allowed only one hit, three walks and no runs over 3 ⅔ innings.
Still down 3-2, Bethesda’s moment to take the lead finally came in the bottom of the seventh inning. With one out, Andrew Smith (San Francisco) singled and stole second; he then advanced to third when the following batter grounded out. Then with two outs, Smith sped home on a wild pitch to tie the game.
“To Andrew Smith there’s only one type of game, and that’s one that you try to win,” Lemon said.
With the game tied 3-3 and two outs in the frame, the Braves turned to their lethal reliever, Dustin Pease. The left-hander, however, was no match for Big Train designated hitter Justin Martin (Florida Atlantic), who doubled off the right field fence, plating Trey Cuevas (Southern Mississippi) to put the Big Train up 4-3.
Bethesda brought relief pitcher David Hayes (Florida Atlantic) to the mound to secure the win, with an assist from Knoble in center field. Knoble caught a deep fly and took a shot at the Braves’ runner tagging from second. His throw bounced perfectly to Smith at third, to end the inning and squash the threat.
Hayes sealed the win for the Big Train in the bottom of the ninth, retiring Herndon in order to close the game.
Following this exciting win, Bethesda moved one game up in the standings with only two games remaining in regular season play. The Big Train went on to come in first in the regular season standings, then topping it off by capturing the postseason championship for the first time in franchise history, in what would be their final season in the Clark Griffith League. It was a “breakout season” for Big Train, Colangelo noted, as it established them as a standout team in the nation.
#10 – July 31, 2005: Big Train 7, Rockville Express 4
Extra-inning heroics bring Big Train closer to inaugural CRCBL title
As the inaugural season of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League came to a close, the Bethesda Big Train found themselves in the midst of teams vying for the 2005 regular season championship. Their path to obtaining the crown was simple: with three games remaining, the Big Train needed three wins.
With each opponent wanting to play spoiler, the Big Train had no room for error. In the penultimate game of the regular season, the Rockville Express nearly put Bethesda’s title hopes to bed, but an extra-inning boost on July 31, 2005, inched the Big Train another game closer to the season championship.
Just the day before, in the 14th greatest game in Big Train history, Jonnie Knoble’s (San Francisco) walk-off RBI in the bottom of the tenth inning lifted Bethesda to a 7-6 victory over the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts. The final three games weren’t going to be easy, and the T-Bolts proved just that.
But as the Big Train battled the Express, one thing became clear: While not every team was challenging for the title, pride was on the line to take down one of the top dogs in the CRCBL’s first season. The intense rivalry present between the Express and Big Train added fuel to the fire in what would be an energetic ending.
“Bethesda Big Train is the New York Yankees of summer baseball,” manager Sal Colangelo said on Thursday’s show. “Everybody wants to play in Bethesda, everybody wants to beat the Big Train, and [Rockville Express] took it to another level. It was exciting every time we played them.”
The Big Train came in at 23-15 and started trusted pitcher Derek Caldwell (Rider) against the Express, who sat at an even 19-19. After a scoreless first inning, Bethesda broke the deadlock in the top of the second when Bryan Thomas (Virginia Tech) scored following a throwing error.
In the fourth, Big Train’s Ken Beamer (Findlay) and Greg Lemon (Salisbury) reached base after each hit singles, and a throwing error by the Rockville pitcher
allowed both to score, extending the Bethesda lead to 3-0.
In the bottom frame of the inning, the Express cut the deficit to two, but Bethesda answered with another run of their own in the top of the seventh to make it 4-1. Going into the bottom of the eighth down three, Rockville needed a spark to continue its hopes of playing spoiler. With the bases loaded, Mike Murphy’s two-RBI single pulled the Express within one. The upset watch was alive and well.
With runners on first and third, Big Train pitcher Brett Tidball (Maryland) picked off the runner at first, but a well-placed hit to left field brought home the tying run, notching the game at four apiece.
Neither team could find the winning run in the ninth, sending the game to extras. Lemon opened the top of the tenth with a single — his fourth of the game — and then advanced to second via a rare Rhett Teller (Saint Leo) sacrifice bunt. After Andrew Smith (San Francisco) was intentionally walked, Thomas singled to juice the bases.
“I was praying, because Rhett, I don’t think he’s ever bunted in his life,” Colangelo said. “We still laugh about that. Sometimes as a coach, you go with your gut. I just knew Rhett coming up, if he can get it down, we have a chance to get him over.”
Then, the Big Train started rolling.
Nick Cleckler (Lipscomb) drove home Lemon and Drew Carson (Southern Mississippi) hit a sac fly to center to score Smith. Thomas made it 7-4 on a passed ball, showing the clutch gene and mental toughness of the Bethesda squad that did everything it needed to obtain the 2005 regular season crown.
Big Train closer Wyatt Stewart (Richmond) gave up two singles in the bottom half of the 10th, but eventually earned his sixth save of the season. The win over Rockville meant the Big Train were one win away from the CRCBL season title, with only one game remaining in the regular season.
“We really had a true blue-collar, just work a day, group of guys, tremendous bullpen, and we had a good defense as well,” Lemon said. “We really had a great group, a fun group, and I’m glad to see that the sort of foundations we laid in ‘04 and ‘05 have been carried on now for 15 years.”
#11 – June 14, 2013: Big Train 7, Baltimore Redbirds 6
Big Train takes down rival Redbirds in seesaw affair
In a back-and-forth affair between the Big Train and Baltimore Redbirds at Povich Field, Bethesda found themselves down 6-5 in the top of the seventh inning. Bethesda tied the game in the bottom of the inning, as the Redbirds issued a bases loaded four-pitch walk to Kevin Tatum (Cornell).
The game went to extras backed by Bubba Derby’s (San Diego State) stellar late-inning pitching. In the bottom of the tenth, Josh Spano (High Point) drove in the game-winning run with a single to send the Big Train to a thrilling early-season victory over their rivals. Big Train held first place the rest of the season and was ranked as high as #7 in the nation that year.
#12 – July 3, 2009 (Game 2): Big Train 2, Youse’s Maryland Orioles 0
Big Train pitching edges out Youse’s Orioles in battle of homegrown pitchers
Dominant pitching defined the day, as locals Hugh Adams (Florida Atlantic, St. John's College High School) of the Big Train and Kevin Brady (Clemson, Gaithersburg High School) of the Orioles squared off in the second game of a doubleheader. The Orioles had won the first game to pull within two games of the league lead. Both pitchers threw complete games in front of a standing room only crowd at Povich Field. The Big Train edged Youse's Orioles 2-0 as Adams pitched an impeccable game, striking out five batters and allowing only four Orioles baserunners.
Big Train was able to get on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning. After a walk and HBP, Big Train had players on first and second. Cody Freeman (Mississippi State) drove a single to left field, scoring the runner from second. In the sixth inning, Big Train added to its lead when Freeman plated a run with a sacrifice fly to left. Big Train went on to win the league by two games and rank #9 in the nation.
#13 – August 12, 2000: Big Train 4, Maryland Bombers 2
National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF) semifinals vs. Maryland Bombers
Playing on the national stage in their second season, the Big Train went up against the Maryland Bombers in the National Amateur Baseball College World Series semifinals in Dayton, Ohio. John Maine (UNC Charlotte) pitched a gem, tossing seven scoreless frames before getting pulled a couple batters into the eighth. His final line read seven innings pitched, five hits and just two runs allowed.
David Colangelo (Marshall) collected four hits in the game. Patrick Boran (Princeton) doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning as part of a four-hit performance. Big Train added one more in the frame to win 4-2, and advance to the NABF finals in their second-ever season. The Big Train finished as NABF’s 2000 College World Series runner up, losing to the Ohio Warhawks in the championship game.
#14 – July 30, 2005: Big Train 7, Thunderbolts 6
Extra-inning showdown moves Big Train into first place tie in race for Ripken League title
Bethesda hosted the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts with a standing-room only crowd in this late season battle. The two teams were back and forth all night, but it was Jonnie Knoble’s (San Francisco) 10th inning hit that edged out the Bolts for this Big Train win.
Big Train led 2-0 until the top of the fourth, when the T-Bolts scored three runs on three hits. Bethesda then trailed the T-Bolts until the eighth, when a double by Brett Hoeflich (Southern Mississippi) plated Drew Carson (Southern Mississippi), sending the game to extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, Knoble stepped up with an RBI single, sending in the winning run. With only two games of league play left, this win was huge for Big Train, as it moved them into a tie for first place.
#15 – June 12, 2001: Big Train 8, Reston Hawks 0
Hayhurst fans 18 Hawks in record-breaking performance
An eight-run inning would typically be the main highlight of a game, but not for the Big Train on June 12, 2001 against the Reston Hawks. Their eight-run sixth inning, which would be the only runs scored all game, was led by Mike Sweeney’s (Florida) two hits including an RBI double to score the first run of the game, opening up the floodgates as the Big Train plated seven more runs.
However, their sixth inning bombardment was overshadowed by starting pitcher Dirk Hayhurst’s (Kent State) record-setting performance, striking out 18 batters in a complete game gem, breaking the previous team single-game strikeout record of 14. Hayhurst allowed eight hits while not walking a single batter to lead the Big Train to a commanding 8-0 win at Shirley Povich Field. He still holds the team single-game strikeout record.
#16 – July 28, 2010: Big Train 3, Baltimore Redbirds 2
Big Train rallies to beat Redbirds in opening round of league playoffs
After falling behind 2-0 early, Big Train came back in the eighth inning to narrowly edge out the Redbirds 3-2. The Redbird’s pitcher had given Big Train trouble all night, until Danny Stienstra (San Jose State) started a rally, leading off with a single, then advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt. Stienstra scored the tying run on a single from Ryan Collins (Mississippi State). Big Train then loaded the bases on two walks and Nick Schneeberger (Tulane) drove in the go-ahead run.
Big Train closer Bryan Hamilton (UNC Charlotte) dominated the ninth inning, striking out three Redbird hitters to seal the win for Bethesda. Following this exciting win, Big Train went on to win the League Championship, beating the Redbirds once again in the final.
#17 – June 14, 2017: Big Train 5, Baltimore Redbirds 4
Early season battle against Redbirds ends in gutsy Big Train win
Tied 4-4 after six innings against the rival Baltimore Redbirds at Povich Field, outfielder Matt Green (Saint Mary’s CA) stepped up to deliver a go-ahead RBI double in the bottom of the seventh to give the Big Train a one-run lead heading into the final two frames.
However, the Redbirds responded in the following half-inning, loading the bases with three consecutive batters to put the Big Train in a bases loaded, no-out situation, and calling upon the bullpen to perform damage control in a one-run game. Relief pitcher Stephen Schoch’s (UMBC) mind was set: take it one batter at a time.
With nerves of steel, the Maryland native struck out the first batter on four pitches, and followed with another strikeout for the crucial second out of the inning. Then, Baltimore’s Austin McNicholas, who had homered earlier in the game, became the third consecutive Redbird to be rung up on strikes, stranding the bases loaded. The Big Train closed out the game, winning 5-4.
#18 – July 20, 2002: Big Train 4, Arlington Senators 3
Big Train defeats Arlington in pitcher’s duel
The Big Train and the Arlington Senators, the top two teams in the Griffith League, faced off before a packed crowd of 834 at Povich Field. Starting pitchers Matt Foster (Navy) of Bethesda and Risley St. Germain of Arlington controlled the game through the first eight innings. St. Germain held Bethesda to two runs, retiring 17 batters in a row; while Foster allowed no runs and only two hits.
In the top of the ninth, Gus Hlebovy (Kent State) relieved Foster after Arlington brought the score to 2-1. Arlington ended the inning up 3-2 after an RBI groundout and a go-ahead RBI single. In the bottom of the ninth, Bethesda tied up the game after Casey Gilvin (Morehead State) ripped an RBI double over the first baseman’s head. With bases loaded and two outs, Big Train’s Nate Jaggers (Middle Tennessee State) clinched the win with a walk-off RBI single.
#19 – June 23, 1999 (Game 2): Big Train 7, Arlington Senators 0
Little’s seven-inning no-hitter
Following a loss in game one of a mid-June doubleheader on the road against the Arlington Senators that cost them their status at the top of the league, Big Train’s starter Jeff Little (Vanderbilt) pitched a seven-inning no-hitter en route to a bounce-back win, propelling Bethesda to the top of the league in the team’s inaugural season. The back half of the split doubleheader would be their final time at the league’s summit in 1999.
#20 – July 27, 2001: Big Train 5, Silver Spring Takoma-Thunderbolts 0
Mark Galvin stands out pitching a near-perfect game
Mark Galvin’s (Kentucky) stellar performance atop the mound was the difference in this Big Train win. His outing was near-perfect, throwing a no-hitter and allowing only one walk. The batter who was given the free pass was doubled up in the next play. Big Train went on to win the game 5-0, besting the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts at Povich Field.
#21 – July 20, 2006: Big Train 4, Rockville Express 3
Brian Dozier’s extra-inning heroics
In a mid-July battle between the first place Big Train and second place Rockville Express, just one game out of the top spot, the Povich Field crowd saw a ten-inning battle end with a walk-off single by infielder Brian Dozier (Southern Mississippi). His late heroics snatched a pivotal game in the race for first in the Cal Ripken League. Dozier went 3-for-4 with a walk and that crucial RBI, as the Big Train won 4-3 in a critical game in the final stretch of the season as the team subsequently pulled away to win the regular season title by three games.
#22 – June 9, 2000: Big Train 8, Arlington Senators 7
Big Train scores six in bottom of the ninth in comeback win
Big Train hosted the Arlington Senators in this exciting battle for the lead of the Griffith League. Big Train went into the bottom of the ninth down 7-2. The home team gave the crowd at Povich Field a thrilling ninth inning, scoring six runs to come back and defeat the Senators 8-7. This win lit a fire for Big Train, and they proceeded to rattle off eight straight wins.
#23 – June 26, 2003: Big Train 7, Herndon Braves 6
Marcus Taylor’s three home runs stand out in Big Train win
In a dominating performance at the plate, Marcus Taylor (Middle Tennessee State) hit three home runs in an extra-inning Big Train win on the road in Herndon – the only time in Big Train history that a player has achieved such a feat.
Taylor’s first of the game came in the second inning as he put Big Train ahead 2-0, crushing a fastball over the right field fence. Then in the fourth inning, Taylor hit a solo home run over the right field fence. However, the Braves caught the Big Train, sending the game to extra innings at 6-6. In the top of the 11th inning, in fitting fashion, Taylor stepped up once more and delivered the go-ahead home run that clinched the Big Train win. The only other Griffith League player in the wooden bat era to hit three home runs in a game was Mark Teixeira, a future major leaguer.
#24 – June 6, 2004: Big Train 5, Reston Hawks 4
Cleckler’s eleventh-inning RBI seals opening day win over Reston
Opening Day of the 2004 season at Povich Field saw Bethesda and the Reston Hawks give Big Train fans a treat with an extra-inning thriller. The game quickly fell in the Big Train’s favor, jumping on the Hawks’ starting pitcher Brian McCullough for four runs in the first three innings while shutting them down at the plate behind Big Train starter Chris Rhoades’ (Towson) 4-hit shutout through seven innings.
However, the bullpen couldn’t hold down the 4-0 lead as Reston’s four-run eighth inning tied the game. The game went to extras and, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eleventh inning, Nick Cleckler (Lipscomb) played hero for the Big Train with a walk-off infield hit to score Trey Cuevas (Southern Mississippi), icing the team’s first win of the 2004 season in dramatic fashion. The victory proved to be especially meaningful later in the summer, as Big Train went on to win the 2004 regular season by one game.
#25 – July 31, 2001: Big Train 7, Germantown Black Rox 3
Big Train rally late to beat Black Rox in ‘01 season finale
The Big Train, once seven games under .500 after 29 games in the 2001 season, won nine out of their final 11 games. This streak was capped off by a thrilling win in the regular season finale against the Germantown Black Rox, preventing what would have been the Big Train’s only losing season in program history.
The Black Rox were rolling off Matt Scheuing’s one-hitter through five innings, cruising to a 2-0 lead. Jim Burt’s (Miami) sixth-inning grand slam proved to be the difference for the Big Train. Even after the Black Rox added a run in the following half inning, the Big Train never looked back, adding two more runs in the seventh and one in the ninth, closing out a 7-3 victory away from home.