The Bethesda Big Train (34-6) completed a historic regular season in the Cal Ripken League on Friday night when it edged the FCA Braves (18-21), 6-4, in Annandale, Virginia. With the win, Big Train broke its team record for wins in a regular season of any length with its 34th triumph of the year.
The game, which was close throughout and included major playoff implications for the Braves, first came to life in the second inning, when second baseman Jacob Westerman (San Francsico) hit a solo home run to hand Big Train an initial lead.
The first of the game’s many swings came in the fifth, when the Braves took the lead. After a solo shot by first baseman Jeff Steuck, third baseman Brett Norwood singled and stole second before being driven home on a double by leftfielder Devin Mangum.
Big Train struck back immediately in the top of the sixth. Centerfielder Tyler Villaroman (San Francisco) and shortstop AJ Lee (Maryland) led off with singles, then stole third and second bases, respectively. One out later an Alec Burleson (East Carolina) sacrifice fly scored Villaroman to tie the game, and Jacob Westerman sent Lee home with a single of his own. Westerman would finish the game with 2 runs, 2 hits and 2 RBI. “[I have] a lot of confidence in my team, a lot of confidence in myself,” Westerman said. “I know we’re playing pretty well right now, so when you know the next guy behind you can do it, it frees you up [in the batter’s box]. I was just trying to see a pitch that I’d get to hit, and a guess I got some today.”
The Braves would tie the game in the bottom of the inning via another solo home run, but Bethesda retook the advantage again in the seventh when Villaroman doubled to score catcher Ben Martz (Santa Barbara Community College).
The Braves knotted the score once more in the bottom of the inning but left the bases loaded when an RBI single was followed by a strikeout and a groundout to end the inning. Missed opportunities became a theme over the course of the game for the Braves offense, which left 13 total runners on base.
After a scoreless eighth, Westerman and Martz each walked in the ninth, bringing up leftfielder Andrew Shebloski (St. Mary’s) with two outs and a chance to take a late lead. “I was just looking for any pitch in the zone,” Shebloski said. “I just took a deep breath, saw a fastball and hit it hard.” By the end of the play, Shebloski found himself celebrating on third base with Westerman and Martz having scored on his game-winning hit.
After Ryan Metz (Virginia Tech) picked up the save in the home half of the ninth, the regular season offically ended on a winning note. “It’s a good win,” Big Train manager Sal Colangelo said. “[The Braves are] a good organization, they played hard. But I like that we got a lot of guys in to play tonight, and they did really well… we did the little things, we took the extra bases, and we had timely hitting.”
Bethesda finishes the regular season with new league records in runs scored (326), walks drawn (238), winning percentage (.850) and on base percentage (.413). Outfielder Justin Wylie (Arizona), who didn’t play Friday, set a team record for batting average (.417).
The Braves missed a chance to clinch a playoff spot on Friday and will play a virtual must-win game against the D.C. Grays on Saturday to complete their regular season. Big Train will await the results of Saturday’s regular season finales and Sunday’s first round of playoff games to learn their opponent in the league semifinals, which will begin Monday at Povich Field.
Regardless of who takes the field against his team in the playoffs, Colangelo believes that Friday’s win set Big Train up for playoff situations. “It just shows you the fight in these guys, that they don’t quit until the end and [that they] get after it,” he said. “It prepares you, because you get into the playoffs and everything is tight. Adrenaline is going, emotions are going... everyone wants to get a piece of it, and it was just a playoff atmosphere here today.”
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