One of the most exciting games of the season unfolded at Shirley Povich Field on Saturday, as Big Train survived a back and forth, offensive game to beat the Baltimore Redbirds, 9-8, in game one of the Cal Ripken League championship series. The victory leaves Bethesda one win away from a third straight Ripken League title, which it can clinch in game two of the best-of-three series, scheduled for Sunday night in Baltimore.
This series marks the tenth consecutive year that Big Train and the Redbirds have met for the championship, but Saturday’s game showed no signs of the rivalry running out of excitement any time soon. Baltimore took the first lead with an RBI single from designated hitter Christian Hlinka in the top of the second, but Bethesda struck back immediately with the first of the game’s many swings. First baseman Alec Burleson (East Carolina) led of the bottom of the second with a single and advanced to second on a passed ball. He reached third on a flyout by designated hitter Jacob Southern (Jacksonville) before scoring alongside leftfielder Justin Wylie (Arizona) on a 2-run single by catcher Ben Martz (Santa Barbara CC).
The lead was extended to 3-1 in the third on an RBI double by third baseman Carson Taylor (Virginia Tech).
Big Train took a 4-1 lead into the fifth, but the Redbirds struck back with a three-run inning before tacking on extra runs in the sixth and seventh to go up 6-4. All five of Baltimore’s unanswered runs were scored with two outs.
After being held hitless for two innings, the Big Train bats sprung back to life in the seventh with a two-out rally of their own. With runners on first and second and two outs, Alec Burleson doubled to score shortstop AJ Lee (Maryland). A Justin Wylie walk loaded the bases, and a Baltimore pitching change was not enough to stop Jacob Southern from walking as well, sending the game into the eighth tied at six.
As both teams received vocal support from the large Povich Field crowd during the climax of the game, Baltimore took the lead again, scoring on solo home runs by shortstop Anthony Servideo and rightfielder Alex Tappen in the eighth to take an 8-6 advantage.
Bethesda wasted no time rallying in the bottom of the eighth, however, loading up the bases with no outs. A groundout by centerfielder Tyler Villaroman (San Francisco) was enough to score Ben Martz from third. Carson Taylor followed suit with an RBI groundout of his own, this time sending home AJ Lee. And with two outs and second baseman Fox Semones (James Madison) waiting on third base, Burleson knocked a single over the head of Servideo and into shallow left field to give Bethesda the 9-8 lead.
The top of the ninth belonged to righthander Gavin Hinchliffe, who shut down the Redbirds in order to pick up the save and place Big Train on the brink of a championship. Perhaps as a testament to the excitement of the contest, the top of the ninth was the only half-inning of the night which featured no baserunners. “It felt great [getting the save],” Hinchliffe said. “We had ups and downs that game, but we’re all playing for each other, we all want to win the championship, so I just went out there and fought for the guys that pitched before me and all the guys on the team.”
Game two of the series is set for 6 p.m. on Sunday at Calvert Hall College High School in Baltimore. With the Redbirds’ backs to the wall in the series, it could become another memorable matchup between these two teams. “We’re expecting the same,” said Burleson. “Very similar to this game. We’re going to have to fight, they’re not going to lay down.” Big Train manager Sal Colangelo, who has led the team to five championship wins over the Redbirds in the last nine years, anticipates the same as well. “It’s going to be very physical, the atmosphere up there is going to be exciting,” he said. “They want to win just as much as we want to win, and I expect them not to quit… it’s going to be another close game.”
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