The Bethesda Big Train comfortably held onto a 5-0 advantage against the Alexandria Aces in the top of the sixth of Game 1, but the Aces managed to put the pressure on with runners on first and second with nobody out.
Just as they had done all evening, the Big Train utilized their strong pitching to avoid the likes of a comeback. Luke Baker (Jacksonville) first got a batter to pop out, then the next hitter flew out to center field. Baker stood tall on the mound and swiftly recorded the third out of the inning to work Bethesda out of a jam and put the first game of the Cal Ripken League Championship Series even more in the Big Train’s favor.
Backed by Jake Eddington's (Alabama) dominant start and Baker’s excellence in relief, the Big Train closed out the Aces, 7-2, to take a 1-0 lead in the LCS. Bethesda is now one win away from their fifth consecutive and ninth total Cal Ripken League title.
Eddington was confident and locked in on the mound to jump start his team’s title effort early on. The right-hander, who accumulated 33 strikeouts across seven regular season starts, put out three straight Aces’ batters with ease and tallied one strikeout in the process in the top of the first inning.
His solid start allowed Bethesda to put its historically efficient offense to good use in the bottom of the first inning. The speedy Darius Foster (San Francisco), who singled to open the frame and moved to third with two outs, took advantage of a passed ball and raced home safely before the tag could come in to award the Big Train the first run of the game. Kemp Alderman (Ole Miss), the CRCBL regular season RBI leader, then drove home Grant Knipp (Campbell) with a single into center field to give the Big Train a quick 2-0 lead.
On the other side of the bracket in the semifinals, the Aces held the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts to just one run over 18 innings before meeting with Bethesda. The Big Train were able to blow away the Thunderbolts’ semifinal run total in just two innings. Rocco Peppi (Long Beach State) helped accomplish that feat in the bottom of the second inning with a long solo home run that went just inside fair territory over the left field fence to give Bethesda a three-run advantage.
Eddington maintained the Big Train’s 3-0 lead after maneuvering his way out of a runners on the corners jam with two outs in the top of the fourth.
Eddington’s continued brilliance opened the door for the Big Train to move further ahead on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth. With Nolan Schanuel (Florida Atlantic) parked at second base, Keith Torres (Sacramento State) wired a ball off the center field wall for an RBI double to extend Bethesda’s advantage to 4-0.
After Baker entered the game and struck out the side in the top of the fifth to continue the Big Train’s dominant pitching, Bethesda’s offense went right back to work in the bottom half. Matt Thomas (William & Mary) singled, eventually made it to third, and then Knipp blooped a single to drive home the Big Train’s fifth run of the evening.
Baker then shut down the Aces in the sixth and seventh innings, while Bethesda tacked on another run in the bottom of the sixth inning to balloon their margin to 6-0.
Trevor Doyle (Sacramento State) then smashed a solo homer – his first long ball of the summer – to deep right field to stretch the Big Train’s lead to seven runs.
Despite conceding two late runs, closer Ryan Metz (Virginia Tech) collected the final three outs to officially close out Alexandria to put Bethesda exactly one victory away from reaching the promised land.
The Big Train looks to close out the league title Friday night in Alexandria. First pitch is at 6:30 p.m. at Frank Mann Field.
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