The Big Train celebrate one of their 29 wins on the season. Bethesda heads into the playoffs to face the Herndon Braves in the semi-finals after a first round bye. (Photo by Lisa A. Kammerman/Big Train Photos)
For the third straight season and the fifth in the last seven years, the Bethesda Big Train have taken home the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League’s regular season title.
Falling one game short of registering their third straight 30-win season, the Big Train (29-11) look to raise the organization back atop the championship summit, having fallen just short the last three seasons.
A familiar foe has played spoiler to Bethesda’s league title hopes. The Baltimore Redbirds (29-11), now managed by former-Baltimore Oriole Larry Sheets, have bested the Big Train in the finals each season since 2012.
The inter-conference opponents split their four-game season series two apiece with the visiting team taking the first two meetings, and the home team winning the final two.
Running away with the South Division, the Big Train’s lead come season’s end reached 8.5 games. Bethesda finished their regular season championship run without a head-to-head losing record against any opponent. In the South, they tallied 4-1 records against the D.C. Grays, Herndon Braves and Vienna Riverdogs. Only the Alexandria Aces won multiple games against the Big Train from within their own division. However, despite beating Bethesda at home in the regular season finale, the Aces lost three of fives games to the division winners.
It was not until June 30, 20 games into the season, that the Big Train fell victim to a division opponent. It would be another week and a half, July 10 against the Vienna Riverdogs, until Bethesda lost a divisional game at home.
Outside of division play, the team fared similarly. Going 14-6, only two teams – the Redbirds and Rockville Express – split four-game series with manager Sal Colangelo’s squad. Bethesda took three of four from the Gaithersburg Giants and Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts while sweeping the Baltimore Dodgers.
Between 2009 and 2011, Bethesda took home three consecutive league championships. Over that time they averaged exactly 30 wins – going 90-35 – capping the run by completing the college summer ball trifecta: a regular season championship, Cal Ripken League championship, and a National Title.
The current regular season championship run, 2013-2015, has brought with it a nearly identical 90-34 record. Since their move to the CRCBL eleven summers ago, Bethesda has taken home the regular season championship seven times, never finishing lower than third. Bethesda holds a 311-143 (.685) record overall in 11 years of Cal Ripken League action.
The CRCBL altered its playoff format for the season, ditching the previous double elimination format. The new system, similar to the one the MLB unveiled before the 2012 season, pits the four lowest ranked teams against each other in first round single-elimination games: #3 Vienna Riverdogs vs. #6 D.C. Grays and #4 Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts vs. #5 Herndon Braves. That leaves the North and South Division winners, the Redbirds and Big Train respectively, with first-round byes. Holding the #1 overall seed, Bethesda is rewarded as they face the lowest seeded team victorious in their Sunday single-elimination game.
Two three-game semifinals series lead to a final three-game championship bout. The higher seeded team will open each series on the road, with games two and three (if necessary) played at home.
The Big Train open the playoffs on the road against the Herndon Braves (19-21), Monday 7 p.m. at Herndon High School. Entering the playoffs 4-6 in their last 10 games, Herndon beat the Thunderbolts in extras Sunday, earning them a shot at the league’s top team in the semifinals. Games two and three (if necessary) will be played at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda.