Vinny Esposito (Sacramento State) high-fives teammate Justin Morris (UMD) after hitting a two-run shot to put Bethesda on top in the top of the first
The Bethesda Big Train clinched the second round of the Cal Ripken League playoffs on Tuesday night with another blowout win, this time a 12-1 victory over the Gaithersburg Giants, whose season is now over. Big Train advances to the final round of the playoffs where they will face their longtime rival, the Baltimore Redbirds.
It was clear from the game’s onset that the Big Train offense, which had scored 14 runs in game one of the series, had not slowed down, and wasn’t going to anytime soon.
Two-hole hitter Clayton Daniel (Jacksonville State University) worked the count full against Gaithersburg pitcher Matt Chanin (UMBC) in the top of the first before lining the ball into right-center field, rounding first base, and sliding into second for a hustle double. A batter later, Cal Ripken League RBI king Vinny Esposito (Sacramento State) made quick work of an 0-2 pitch, getting just enough of it for the ball to barely clear the centerfielder’s outstretched glove before landing just past Criswell Automotive Park’s centerfield fence for a two-run homer, his second of the postseason.
In the third, leadoff man Logan Farrar (Virginia Commonwealth University) worked a walk, and third baseman Allen Smoot (University of San Francisco) singled to right, putting runners at the corners for Esposito. On a 1-2 pitch, the ball got away from the Gaithersburg catcher, allowing Smoot to take second and scoring Farrar for Bethesda’s third run of the game. On the next pitch, Esposito hit a chopper to the Giants third baseman, beating out the throw for an infield single and again putting runners at the corners. The next batter, Cody Brown (Mississippi State University), popped out to the shortstop, leaving the runners where they were for Justin Morris (University of Maryland). The Giants catcher was unable to get control of the first pitch of the at-bat, and Smoot scored on the second passed ball of the inning, making the score 4-0.
Mike Emodi (Creighton University) led off the fourth with a well-hit solo homer to left, but Big Train bats went silent for the next two innings as Chanin settled in, setting down the next six batters he faced in order. However, the Giants removed Chanin before the sixth inning in favor of David Hutchinson (University of Albany), a change that seemed to be perfectly fine with Bethesda, as the offense knocked him around for three runs, the biggest blow being a two-run Emodi single up the middle, causing him to be yanked from the game without having recorded an out.
Adam Neveski (Central Connecticut State University) entered the game and appeared to be ready to stop the bleeding, striking out the first two batters he saw, but successive singles by Farrar and Daniel, followed by a Smoot double into the left field corner, derailed his plan as Bethesda tacked on another two runs, stretching their lead to nine runs.
Big Train picked up right where they had left off in the top of the seventh, loading the bases on singles to right and left by Brown and Emodi respectively and a ball hit off the pitcher’s mitt by Morris. An out later, Brown scored on deep fly ball hit just shy of the centerfield fence by catcher Austin Hale (Stetson University) for a sacrifice fly. Next up was Farrar, who lined a 3-2 pitch down the left field line, scoring Morris and making the score 12-1. The Giants then made their third pitching change of the night, bringing in Eddie O’Neill (Towson University) to face Daniel. O’Neill held Bethesda hitless for the remaining two and a third innings, but the damage was already done.
Manager Sal Colangelo lauded his offense for playing well against a tough Giants team: “The Giants are a very good team… but our guys stepped up to the challenge and did what they needed to do to win. …. [The team] has been aggressive, they’ve had a great approach at the plate, been doing the little things, and they’ve just been seeing the ball really well.”
Not to be forgotten in an offense-laden night was Big Train starting pitcher Drew Strotman (St. Mary’s College), who picked up the win and pitched a gem of a game, allowing only one run on five hits in seven innings, tied for his longest outing of the season.
“It was his last outing, and he was cruising,” said Colangelo. “He felt great. You know, if it was up to him, he would’ve kept going. …. He’s done well against Gaithersburg every time he’s thrown, and today was a good time for him to win.”
Strotman was also aided by the defense behind him, who played error-free baseball and picked him up when he needed it. With a runner on third base in the bottom of the third inning, Cody Brown slid towards second base on his stomach after making an exemplary diving catch for the last out, holding aloft a ball that had seemed destined to drop for an RBI hit. In the sixth, Garrett Kueber (Moorpark College) made a great backhand play on a ball at the edge of the infield dirt before cannoning it across the diamond to get the runner by less than a step. And, in the fourth, Strotman himself made a nifty play on a comebacker to the mound, spearing it and tossing it to Morris at first for the second out of the inning.
The series clincher also featured a brief appearance from Sean Barry (University of San Diego), who struck out the side in the eighth in what Colangelo confirmed was a “tune-up” to keep him fresh for the remainder of the playoffs.
Bethesda has an off-day Wednesday, but will return to action on Thursday in Baltimore, where they will face the rival Redbirds in the first game of the final round of the Cal Ripken League playoffs.