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Big Train Sweep Grays in Semifinals, Punch Ticket to Championship Series

By:Dylan Spilko

With the Big Train one win away from a trip to the 2021 Cal Ripken League Championship Series, Ryley Johnson (East Carolina) had a golden opportunity to break the game open when he stepped up to the plate in a 4-1 game in the top of the fourth. 

With the bases loaded, he worked his way to a full count, fighting off quality pitches in the process to remain alive. The center fielder went for the eighth pitch of the at-bat and lined one into the right field corner to bring home three runs with one swing – a pivotal bases-clearing triple for the speedy Johnson. 

The East Carolina product’s three-run triple rounded out the Big Train’s five-run fourth inning as it was all Bethesda needed to take care of D.C. in the series-clinching game Tuesday night at Shirley Povich Field. The Big Train went on to defeat the Grays, 14-4, advancing to the LCS as they look for their fifth consecutive league title.

After the Big Train’s offense managed 14 runs through seven innings in the Game 1 win Monday evening, they went right back to work against the Grays’ pitchers, this time as the away team at Povich Field. 

Ryley Johnson (East Carolina) was on base five times Tuesday night, going 4-for-5 with a double, a triple, a walk, three runs scored and four RBIs. 

Johnson singled in the top of the first to kick things off, then Matt Thomas (William & Mary) made it aboard with a one-out walk. Both players advanced a base off steals and Grant Knipp (Campbell) proceeded to make his playoff presence known at the plate with the early prime RBI opportunity. Knipp knocked a single up the middle to bring home the opening two runs of the game to put Bethesda up 2-0. 

The Big Train’s early momentum immediately carried over into the top of the second inning. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Danny Neri (Notre Dame) grounded out into a double play but a run came in to extend Bethesda’s run advantage to three. Through just two innings, the Big Train had accumulated four hits and two walks to help them bolster their lead before the Grays recorded their first hit. 

D.C. answered back with a run in the bottom of the second to cut the score to 3-1, but it could’ve been two runs in the inning if it weren’t for a beautifully thrown ball to the plate from Keith Torres (Sacramento State). A defensive stalwart in the infield, Torres swiftly gathered a throw from the center fielder Johnson, turned and successfully fired the ball to the catcher Neri, who tagged out the Grays’ runner to easily collect the final out of the inning. 

Despite D.C. making a push to stay in the game, Bethesda’s historically efficient offense (9.8 runs per game in regular season) continued to press, this time in the top of the fourth inning. The bases were full once again with no outs and Neri grounded out, however, he brought in the Big Train’s fourth run of the day in the process. 

The inning’s offensive push from Bethesda didn’t stop there, though. Johnson came to bat with the bases loaded and sent a liner to right field for a three-run RBI triple to stretch the Big Train’s lead to 7-1. Bethesda scored one more to put an exclamation point on the offense’s five-run fourth inning. 

A relentless offense is a typical Big Train trait and that continued to hold true into the top of the fifth inning as well. With the help of Trevor Doyle (Sacramento State) and Darius Foster (San Francisco), Bethesda tacked on two more runs to push the score to 10-1. 

Even though the Grays fought back with two runs in the bottom of the fifth to end starter Matt Bedford’s (University of Notre Dame) solid day on the mound, the Big Train lead was too much for D.C. offense to fight back against.  

Ryan Metz (Virginia Tech) fired a scoreless ninth to close out the victory and send the Big Train to the LCS.

Pitchers Everett Catlett (Georgetown) and Zach Locke (Long Beach State) combined to hold D.C. 's bats to just one run in the sixth and seventh innings to maintain the Big Train’s strong 10-4 lead heading into the eighth. 

Bethesda added on more run insurance in the top of the eighth. With runners on second and third, Christian Martin (Virginia Tech) chopped a grounder to bring the 11th run of the game for the Big Train. A sacrifice fly from Knipp made it 12-4 in the same half inning. Kyle Robinson (Texas Tech) shut things down in the bottom of the eighth, then Bethesda piled on two more runs in the top of the ninth to cap off the team’s two-game sweep of D.C. 

With a 14-4 score, pitcher Ryan Metz (Virginia Tech) collected the final three outs to officially send Bethesda to the finals, which will be played against the Alexandria Aces in a best-of-three series after they took down the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts in two games. Game 1 of the finals will be at Bethesda on Thursday. Tickets are available here.

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