In the top of the fourth inning of the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday at Shirley Povich Field, Gaithersburg Giants designated hitter Ehi Okojie struck out looking. Before departing for the first-base dugout, he looked down at his feet and stared as Ryan Sanders (St. Mary’s) took a stroll through the infield.
One at-bat earlier in the top of the second, Okojie launched a solo home run against the Bethesda Big Train to put his team ahead. It was a momentary respite for the Giants after they had been blown out in the first game of Wednesday's twinbill. Alas, the blast was the Giants’ only hit and run of the evening in a 7-1 loss.
Sanders bounced back from the mistake and gave Bethesda six innings with eight strikeouts while giving up one hit and one run in a condensed, seven-inning match. The Moraga, California, native held Gaithersburg to 1-22 batting as a team and lowered his ERA to 1.67 through a team-high 27 innings.
“Getting over the fastball, using the fastball late in counts and then sometimes just mixing in the off-speed getting stuff over for strikes,” Sanders said of his pitching approach. “Just getting ahead in counts is kind of my main goal, and that's what I did tonight.”
Sanders needed only 70 pitches to work through six frames, getting a 1-2-3 inning five times Wednesday night. It was an economical outing.
“After I threw that pitch, I was like, ‘Yeah, I think that's a home run off the bat.’ ” Sanders said. “And so my approach was to wipe it, we’re done. My focus was on intent in the zone. I’m fully committed to the pitches that I'm throwing.”
When Sanders departed the mound after six full innings, he left with the Big Train (21-6) ahead by six runs. With the rising junior at St. Mary’s mowing down the Giants’ (11-15) lineup, the Green and White used a four-run third and three-run fourth to help Sanders earn his fourth win of the season.
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the third, Emilien Pitre (Kentucky) singled in Colton Hegwood (Louisiana Tech) and advanced DM Jefferson (Notre Dame) to second and Luke Nowak (East Carolina) to third.
As a result, Giants pitcher Evan Selmer was hooked after 2.1 innings. Matthew Vernieri replaced Selmer but couldn't close out the inning. Peyton Schulze (UC Berkeley) unleashed a double to bring in Nowak and Jefferson and give the Big Train a 3-0 lead. The final run of the inning came when Vernieri walked Trey Winget (St. Mary's) with the bases loaded to force home Pitre.
In the fourth, Jefferson plated Hegwood with a single to right before scoring on a wild pitch. And for the seventh and final run of the game, Schulze hit his second double of the nightcap, which scored Pitre.
In the doubleheader — the Big Train won the afternoon match, 11-1 and outhit Gaithersburg by a combined 26-5 over the two games — Schulze was the star of the show. He had had six hits, seven RBIs, five doubles and one home run. It's something his manager has been expecting.
“[Peyton’s] been working all year,” manager Sal Colangelo said. “He’s been working, so it's not surprising what he’s been doing.”
Schulze leads the team with 24 RBIs, is second with 32 hits and has the third-highest batting average with .352.
“We battled the first game, got some runs up on them early,” Schulze said. “It feels good; we’re going into the playoffs. We're gonna start hitting our stride and play our best game.”
The wins put Bethesda two games up on the Alexandria Aces, who lost to the Metro SOCO Braves Wednesday, 9-3, in the race for the regular season title. The Big Train, the league's five-time defending champions, have eight games remaining in the regular season and look to continue to stay hot right into the playoffs.
“We had competitive at-bats and then we worked ahead on the mound,” Colangelo said. “We mixed things up, and we did the little things — we laid down a couple of bunts, and we ran the bases very well.”
In the third, Hegwood and Nowak put on a bunting clinic, both reaching first with deft hits down the third base line.
But Hegwood did more than club two hits; he tracked a slicing foul ball 40 yards down the right field line and made a circus catch for a crucial out in the sixth, eliciting a hearty fist pump from Sanders.
“To see one of my guys go out there and working hard and giving their best effort is just amazing to have behind you,” Sanders said of Hegwood’s defense. “It makes you feel confident and that your team is there for you.”
To close out the doubleheader sweep, Jordan Little (East Carolina) needed just 11 pitches to get the final three outs and maintain his sparkling 0.00 ERA over 19 innings.
The Big Train will look for their fourth straight win when they take on the Metro SOCO Braves in another doubleheader on Friday at Povich Field beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Game Night Notes: The Big Train celebrated its first Halloween in July on Wednesday and our fans enjoyed a ton of Halloween-themed fun, including plenty of Halloween candy, costumed interns (there was a Minion!), spooky decorations, and a dynamite Halloween playlist... Our Community Heroes of the Night were Cornerstone Montgomery & Larry Post threw out a perfect first pitch... The Capital City 12U Little League All-Star Team joined the Big Train tonight. Alex Unruh threw out the first pitch and the rest of his teammates joined the Big Train players on the field for the national anthem. Good luck, Cap City!... The Big Train were joined for the second time this season by the Capital Accord Chorus, a progressive women's chorus from Silver Spring. They performed an excellent pre-game set before game number two, delivered a beautiful rendition of the national anthem, and led a stirring sing-a-long of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 5th-Inning Stretch (game two was 7 innings)... Attendance was 484.
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