After a seventh inning Baltimore Redbirds rally, the Big Train looked as though their chance at a sixth CRCBL title was slipping away in Game 3.
Clinging to a 4-2 lead, Ty Madrigal (St. Mary’s) allowed a two-out double to Redbirds catcher Drew Blakely. The hit brought Cole Zabowski, the potential game tying-run and Baltimore's hottest hitter, to the plate. Zabowski entered the contest hitting .611 in the playoffs with two home runs and seven RBIs.
For Bethesda, it was All-Star closer Stephen Schoch (UMBC) who would face Zabowski in a matchup that would rival Ali and Frazier.
Schoch had been virtually unhittable for the Big Train all year. The bushy-bearded reliever entered the duel against Zabowski without allowing a single run all season as hitters had managed just 12 hits in his 26.1 innings of work.
“In my opinion he’s the relief pitcher of the year,” manager Sal Colangelo said.
Schoch quickly found himself down 2-0 against Zabowski. As the tension at Shirley Povich Field mounted, veteran catcher Justin Morris (Maryland) called for time and visited the mound.
“I just wanted to let him know to flush it and move on, next pitch,” Morris said. “Just don’t worry about the guys on base -- just focus on the hitter.”
Once Morris settled back in behind the plate, Schoch appeared refocused. The 6-foot-5-inch righty followed the conference with a strike, a ball, and a few foul tips by Zabowski resulting in a loaded count.
Needing something in the zone, past history suggested Schoch would go to his meticulous fastball or devastating changeup to foil Zabowski. Instead the UMBC product threw his patented frisbee slider on the outside corner.
As the ball smacked into Morris’ catching glove, all Zabowski could do was watch while the home plate umpire rung him up for the final out of the inning.
“We knew Schoch would do it the Schoch way and he did,” Colangelo said.
After the punch out, Schoch belted a resounding roar as the home crowd of over 600 was sent into hysteria. He then made his way to the dugout, throwing high-fives that appeared more like haymakers in all directions as he was mobbed by his teammates.
”Nothing’s really going to change, it’s a 2-0 count,” Schoch said. “The hitter might be good but I’m going to trust my stuff, that it’s going to be better than what he can handle.”
And though Schoch had to come back in the ninth to complete the six-out save, it was after his eighth inning strikeout against Zabowski that Bethesda players and fans could taste title number six.
“When you’re in a pressure situation the thing is once it goes away you get to celebrate a little,” Schoch said. “But you got to make sure you’re ready to come back and do the same exact thing next inning.”