07/30/2022 12:04 AM
In the playoffs, little things can completely change a game’s story. A small mistake can cost a team a game; a bad bounce can change a series.
The Bethesda Big Train fell 8-6 to the Alexandria Aces in Game 1 of the Cal Ripken League Championship Series because of their inability to handle the basics and because a few bounces did not go their way.
Manager Sal Colangelo summarized how the game unfolded from the get go.
“We didn’t play good baseball,” Colangelo said. “Mentally we weren't prepared, physically we weren't prepared and with two outs you got to bury them and we gave it too many runs with two outs. We just didn’t play well.”
While the Big Train came out a little flat, the Aces started quickly. Eddie Hacopian led things off with a line drive that bounced in and out of the glove of Big Train second baseman Colton Hegwood (Louisiana Tech). After Hacopian ran to second on a wild pitch from Kade Woods (Alabama), who got his first start of the playoffs, Adam Tellier reached first on a Hegwood error, this time on a ground ball he couldn’t handle.
With runners at first and third, CJ Boyd grounded out softly to short, bringing Hacopian home to give the Aces the early lead.
Woods wasn’t helped out by his defense in the first and still struck out two, but he struggled with control problems in the second. Two walks and a single loaded the bases for Brendon Harrity with nobody out. Harrity bounced into a fielder’s choice, which allowed JT Carter to score to make it 2-0. However, Woods and his battery mate, Jason Schiavone (JMU) combined to end the threat. Schiavone threw out Harrity at second as he attempted to steal the bag while Woods struck out Tellier.
While the Aces were capitalizing on their opportunities, the Big Train were making critical mistakes. After DM Jefferson (Notre Dame) walked and stole second with nobody out in the fourth, he was picked off with the tying run at the plate and Bethesda could not convert for the next two innings. It was a momentum killer.
Luke Baker (Dayton) came on for Woods in the fourth and retired the side with two strikeouts.
Baker wasn't as sharp in the fifth when the Aces doubled their lead via a two-run homer to deep left from Tellier to make it 4-0. The Big Train looked emotionless and the Aces’ dugout was in boisterous glory.
Bethesda closed the gap in the sixth, however. With two outs and TJ Rogers (Austin Peay) and Sean Lane (Maryland) in scoring position, Lane scored on a balk to get the Big Train on the board. Jason Schiavone (James Madison) would follow up with an RBI single to make it 4-2. The Big Train looked to have grabbed momentum.
Then things went sideways.
A huge turning point in the game came in the sixth inning with two outs. After coming in for Baker and striking out his first two batters, Kaleb Woltz (USF) walked Harrity and Hacopian hit a soft dribbler up the first baseline. It should have been a routine putout to end the inning, but Woltz overthrew Lane at first on what should have been a routine putout. Harrity came around to score and Hacopian ended up at third.
That error changed the game. The Aces ended up scoring four unearned runs in the inning to take a commanding 8-2 lead.
“I think that we were putting our energy into the wrong things,” Schiavone said. “I feel like that's why the outcomes of our bats didn't go our way because we're letting some of the outside stuff affect our thoughts and what we wanted to do in the box.”
Kai Burdick (USF) came in for Woltz and was the best pitcher for the Green and White on the night, dealing two scoreless innings and striking out three. He came in with the bases loaded with the goal of limiting the damage and attacking the zone to keep the team in the game. He did.
“I thought I was getting real good tilt on my fastball. I was really getting that down in the zone and then I was able to pair that well with my splitter,” Burdick said. “When I get those two pitches working I'm usually pretty successful.”
Burdick’s performance kept the deficit at six and fueled the Big Train in the seventh. Just as the Aces converted their runs in the sixth with two outs, Bethesda did the same. After Warren Holzemer (Virginia Tech) and Jefferson walked, Lane singled to load the bases. Rogers had a terrific at bat, spoiling several pitches with two strikes before working a walk and forcing in a run to make it 8-3.
Baylor Cobb (Louisiana Tech) then brought Jefferson home with an RBI single to right. And Schiavone would follow it up with a two-run RBI infield single to make it 8-6. Hegwood was then called out on a close play at first. It was a break for the Aces, and they took advantage, holding firm from that point on. With the loss, the Big Train find themselves on the brink of elimination.
“I think we were flat to start the game. We hit the last third of the game and we finally had some energy in the dugout, everyone was up and loud,” Burdick said. “I think we just got to come out of the gates with that tomorrow.”
Even though the Big Train were without four of their best hitters who are no longer with the team for various reasons, they still fought until the end. Cleaning up defensive miscues and capitalizing on key two out situations would go a long way towards forcing a Game 3.
Bethesda has to come out with its best performance of the season in front of what will be a very loud atmosphere at Shirley Povich Field on Saturday. Game 2 starts at 7 p.m.
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