The playoffs often bring out the best in teams. Thus, despite being the sixth seed, the Alexandria Aces came to play against the top-seeded Bethesda Big Train in game one of the Cal Ripken League semifinals Friday night. But despite a hard fight from the Aces, the Big Train were able to rally, winning 11-4 to avoid an upset and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Things did not look good early on for the Big Train; in the top of the first the Aces struck first blood when Max Romero (Vanderbilt) hit an RBI single to put his team up 1-0. Alexandria would add to their lead in both the second and third innings. In the second, Riley Cheek (UNC Charlotte) hit a two-run home run and in the third Dominic Toso (Bucknell) hit an RBI single as the Aces took a stunning 4-0 lead.
But, not to worry; in the bottom of the fourth Bethesda began to crawl back. Kobe Kato (Arizona) scored the first Big Train run, swiping home on a delayed double steal. Later in the inning, Cade Hunter (Virginia Tech) hit an RBI single, and Tate Soderstrom (Arizona) brought in a run on a ground ball to put Bethesda within one run at 4-3. The very next inning, Big Train would even the score as Matt Thomas (William & Mary) worked a bases-loaded walk that would allow Gio Diaz (St. Mary’s CA) to score and even the game at four apiece.
The score held at 4-4 until the bottom of the seventh. With the bases loaded and one man out, one play changed the entire complexion of the game. Christian Jayne (East Carolina) hit a ground ball to the Aces first baseman Jake Heilman (Lansing CC) for a force-out. Lansing then looked to turn a double-play and fired home, but Diaz was able to slide in just before the tag to put the Big Train on top 5-4.
From there, the Big Train would put the game away. Drew Hamrock (Virginia) hit a two-run single, advanced to second, and later stole third and scored on an error to make it an 8-4 game. Then, Darius Foster (San Francisco) ripped a two-run triple, and an error on the throw into third base allowed him to score on a little league home run and give the Big Train a commanding 11-4 lead.
While the Big Train’s offense finally broke through, reliever Ryan Metz (Virginia Tech) held the Aces at bay. He entered the game in the top of the fourth with his team down 4-0 and knew he had to limit the damage.
“Just keep it here,” Metz said of his mindset entering the game. “The offense is too good to let four runs get us down.”
Not only did Metz keep the Aces off the scoreboard for an inning; he did it for six. The second-year Big Train pitcher tossed six shutout innings allowing just four hits while striking out four batters to earn the win. After the game, Metz credited the team behind him for being the key to his success.
“The defense really played well; they had my back," he said. "I had command, cutter, changeup all of it was good, but the defense was better."
Though Metz is a Big Train returner, he did not join the 2019 club until the second month of the season. Nevertheless, the right-hander was happy to be in a position to make an impact in such an important game.
“It’s awesome, I love it here. There are always good guys, [head coach Sal Colangelo] is a good guy to play for. It’s been a little bit of an odd summer, but I’m glad to be here and to be contributing in the playoffs."
With the 11-4 win in game one, the Big Train can clinch the semifinals series against the Aces with a victory at Frank Mann Field in Alexandria, Virginia Saturday. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m., with Alex Drain and Shaun Salehi on the call for those who can’t make the trip. If the Big Train were to lose Saturday, they’d be back at Shirley Povich Field for a game three-winner take all against the Aces Sunday evening.
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