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Big Train Hold on To Defeat Aces 7-5

By:Bennett Solomon
Ryan Sanders looks on before his pitch in the Big Train's 7-5 win over the Alexandria Aces. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Schwager.)

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With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Big Train's Erik Ritchie (East Carolina) delivered a first-pitch fastball that crossed over the plate. The bat's loud crack echoed through the stands at Frank Mann Field in Alexandria, Va., and the ball soared towards the right-centerfield gap. 

With two runners on, the Alexandria Aces had a chance to tie the game if the ball off the bat of Aces catcher Jacob Friend got down. But it didn't. Colton Hegwood (Louisiana Tech), after moving from second base to right field to bolster the team's defense, raced towards it, stuck his glove up on the run and caught the ball in stride. 

Hegwood’s catch secured a dramatic 7-5 win for the Bethesda Big Train (10-1) over the Aces (6-5) Tuesday evening, securing the team’s sixth straight victory, although one that probably shouldn't have been quite so nerve racking.

"They competed,” head coach Sal Colangelo said of his team. “I thought the pitchers threw very well. Offensively, we changed our approaches a little bit. It went backwards today but we’ll get that squared away. They strive for excellence and they didn’t get mixed up with the riffraff.” 

Ryan Sanders (St. Mary's) got the ball to start for Bethesda and the southpaw delivered another strong performance. He pitched five innings, gave up just one run and struck out seven Aces. He has thrown a team-high 15 innings this season, going 5 in each of his three starts and allowing only 4 earned runs while striking out 18.

Sanders found himself in trouble in the second inning tonight, having to deal with a bases loaded one-out situation. But he was able to get himself out of the jam after a fielders choice and flyout limited the damage to just one run allowed. 

After that, Sanders was in cruise control, striking out the side in the third inning and easing his way to two more scoreless innings. Sanders said the control of his breaking ball was the difference maker in his outing. 

“It helps build the confidence in the pitch and your ability to throw it. Even if they put it in play, you know you have a good defense behind you to work around it.” 

On the offensive side, Peyton Schulze (Long Beach State) continued to dominate at the plate. In the second inning, Schulze let a fastball travel deep in the strike zone and launched a solo home run over the right centerfield fence to put the Big Train up 1-0. 

Although the Aces tied the game in the bottom of the second, Schulze answered in the third, clearing the bases with a three-run double just over the third base bag to put the team up 4-1. 

After the double, Schulze also showcased his base running. He stole third and Friend's attempt to nab him sailed over third baseman Connor Offshack's head, allowing Schulze to score on the play. Schulze, whose hitting a monstrous .429/.500/.667 on the season so far, said it’s exciting to be a part of a strong offensive lineup.

“It feels good,” he said. “You never know when you could just turn it on and score four or five in an inning. Especially when the offense is down early in the game, we just put it on and click.” 

Going into the fourth, the Big Train held a 6-1 lead that would hold until the seventh when the team scored an extra insurance run to make it 7-1.

But the Aces never quit, scoring one run in the seventh and three runs in the eighth off Todd Mozoki (James Madison) to cut the Big Train lead to 7-5. The Aces had three hits in the inning to spur on their comeback but also stranded three runners, likely leaving them to wonder what could have been. 

Going into the bottom of the ninth, Ritchie came on to lock down the save. Despite walking two batters, he would keep the Aces off the scoreboard with help from Hegwood to improve the Big Train win streak to six games. 

Bethesda stay on the road against the Gaithersburg Giants Thursday at 7 p.m. The game is the beginning of 11 games in 11 days for the team. Despite a busy schedule, Colangelo hopes to eliminate the mistakes that continue to hamper the team, despite the winning run, but doesn't seem too worried.

“If we get better on the base paths and execute at the plate, we’ll be fine.”

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