Rockville, MD – The Bethesda Big Train (22-13) topped the Silver Spring - Takoma Thunderbolts (14-21) 11-8 to win their final home game of the season. Given results elsewhere in the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League on Wednesday, the Big Train needed to win to have any chance of claiming the North Division title. Regardless of whether the team win's the division, topping the Thunderbolts gives Bethesda's players confidence going into the playoffs.
“I feel like the bats are really starting to get around and we kind of showed it today with eleven and runs and thirteen hits so we're feeling good about ourselves,” said Dean Toigo (Oregon).
The Big Train got things rolling right away. In the bottom of the first, Jeffery Heard (Sacramento State) dinked a single to right field to drive in Toigo, who had reached on an error, giving Bethesda a 1-0 lead. Heard’s knock raised his Ripken league-leading RBI total to 36.
Bethesda kept the party going, exploding for five runs in the bottom of the second. Thunderbolts starter Brayden Stutzman lost his command entirely, throwing eleven straight balls to load the bases on two walks and a hit by pitch. With the bases loaded, Dixon Williams (East Carolina) scorched a double to left field to drive in two runs.
After Williams' double, Toigo launched a 373-foot three-run home run, his second of the year. Toigo’s towering shot drove made the score 6-0.
Despite building up a comfortable lead, the Big Train’s six run lead was short-lived. After keeping the Thunderbolts at bay for the first three frames, Big Train starter Jesse Gutierrez (San Jose St) suffered the same affliction as Stutzman, and lost his control. After walking the bases loaded, Matthew Sicoli, Beck Urofsky and Joe Kaleck all had RBI doubles, leading Silver Spring - Takoma to score seven runs and take a 7-6 lead.
However, Bethesda battled back. In the bottom of the fifth, Toigo got his fourth RBI of the day and tied the game with a sacrifice fly to bring home Williams. The next inning, the Green and White retook the lead after Connor Rasmussen (Tulane) had an RBI groundout to make the score 8-7.
Bethesda doubled their lead in the bottom of the sixth when Toigo hammered his second home run of the day. Toigo is the first hitter to hit multiple home runs in a game this season. Both of his home-runs came in his first two plate appearances with his new walk-up song, "Super Bass" by Nicki Minaj, which one of the Big Train's college interns chose for Toigo. Knowing baseball players' proclivity for superstition, it's likely to stick around.
“I think I got to keep [Super Bass] from now on out,” Toigo said.
The Green and White padded their lead in the bottom of the seventh. Rasmussen lined a double down the left field line to bring home two runs and make the score 11-7. Bethesda scored in six of the eight innings they hit in.
Jack Robinson (Roanoke College) closed out the game for Bethesda. In two innings pitched, Robinson allowed just one run on a Sicoli RBI double in the top of the ninth. Sicoli served as the Thunderbolts' Toigo and had a huge day for the Thunderbolts with five hits and three RBIs.
A Big Train win combined with a Cropdusters loss Wednesday would have clinched the division for the Green and White. However, because the Cropdusters (22-14) beat the Gaithersburg Giants (11-23) 2-0 on the road, the North Division title will be decided on the final day of the regular season.
Bethesda goes on the road to Alexandria to face the Aces in that matchup. The stakes are simple: If Bethesda wins the game, they win the North Division. If they lose, the Cropdusters take home the division crown. A division win means Bethesda would get a first-round bye, avoiding the randomness of the one-game playoff. However, despite the pressure, the players are focused on staying relaxed.
“Everyone's got to stay loose,” Toigo said. “We got to stay locked in, but at the end of the day, everyone's got to stay loose and just remember to have fun and do what we usually do.”
The Big Train are in the playoffs, but how their run to another championship begins will depend a lot on the team's ability to follow Toigo's advice. And how they do in that one game against the Aces on Friday evening.
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