Alexandria, VA – In a wild game one of the 2023 Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League Championship Series (LCS), the Big Train out-slugged the Alexandria Aces, rapping 19 hits and four home runs to win 16-10. Jason Schiavone (James Madison) delivered a stellar performance at the plate, crushing three of those homers, driving in eight, and scoring three runs. The catcher and returning Big Train player did just about all he could to avenge last year’s championship loss to the Aces, describing game one as one of his best performances to date.
“[It’s] one of the biggest nights I've ever had. I mean, it was definitely the most fun,” said Schiavone. “I think all we're trying to do is [to] get the momentum going early…The Aces are a great team, it’s always a dogfight with them. Honestly, if we can just get those runs across the board, we’ll be fine.”
The Big Train were off and running from the start. Leadoff batter Dixon Williams (East Carolina) took a four-pitch walk to set the tone. Dean Toigo (Oregon) took immediate advantage by blasting a two-run shot to right field. Teddy Ruffner (Youngstown State) and Jacob Orr (Maryland) followed with a pair of singles before Schiavone smashed a three-run homer of his own. This put the Big Train up 5-0 in the first, a continuation of Tuesday’s offensive explosion that sealed Bethesda’s spot in the finals.
“The boys just hit today,” said Toigo of the Big Train’s fierce first inning. “I think it gave everyone some confidence, [relaxation], and calmed some nerves. [We realized] that this was just another game.”
Jesse Gutierrez (San Jose State) earned the start for the Big Train in game one but continued to struggle. Facing an unfamiliar early five-run deficit, the Aces refused to go down without a fight, clawing their way back even by the second inning. In the first, the leadoff man Tim Nicholson tripled to set up RJ Hamilton for an RBI grounder. The Aces followed with a five-run second to take the 6-5 lead. In addition to a couple of RBI hits, Alexandria made the most of some Big Train defensive mishaps, putting up one run each on a Jack Guerrero (James Madison) error and a passed ball.
Alexandria added another score off of Gutierrez in the third, pushing the Big Train coaching staff to make a change. Kevin Scully (James Madison) came in for relief, delivering a quick punch out to end the inning.
Down 7-5, the Big Train’s backs were undoubtedly against the wall. The team had yet to come back from a deficit like this against the dominant 2023 Aces team. But Bethesda’s offense stormed back in the fourth, scoring seven runs and cycling through the lineup. Five-straight singles from Connor Rasmussen (Tulane), Casey Bishop (Towson), Williams, Toigo, and Jeffery Heard (Sacramento State) kicked off the offensive masterclass, with both Rasmussen and Williams touching home to tie it back up at seven. The Aces finally pulled their starter Anthony Ehly, in favor of Cade Mattison, who immediately hit Ruffner.
With Orr up, Toigo scored on a wild pitch, before the outfielder singled to score Heard, putting Bethesda up 8-7. Then Schiavone capped off the fourth inning with his second three-run dinger of the day, scoring Ruffner and Orr and putting the Green and White up 11-7.
Scully maintained the Big Train’s positive momentum by quickly retiring the side in the bottom of the fourth. But the Aces were able to get one back in both the fifth and sixth innings, thanks to a Nicholson RBI double and Cory Taylor’s bases-loaded walk.
Austin Morris (Alabama) relieved Scully and took over during a precarious no-out bases-loaded jam and the Big Train clinging to an 11-9 lead. The pitcher forced a sacrifice fly to center field for the first out, allowing the Aces to tack on their tenth run. Then Morris kicked it into a higher gear, spinning a nasty strikeout for out number two and retiring the next batter on a grounder to second. The Big Train’s two-run lead held, despite Alexandria’s unwavering pressure.
Toigo hit an RBI double to tack on two more important insurance runs in the seventh, driving in Williams and Rasmussen.
Back on the bump, Morris continued to stay hot in the bottom of the seventh, striking out the Aces’ first batter, the first time all game Alexandria didn’t lead off with a hit. The pitcher proceeded to put two men on, but with two outs and a full count, Morris threw a fastball that caught Matt Ossenfort, one of the league-leading hitters, looking to end the inning, spurring Morris to march off the mound in celebration.
In the top of the eighth, Schiavone sent his third homer of the day past the left center field wall to score Orr, giving the Big Train the 16-10 lead. A deficit this large seemed safe, but there is a reason the Aces were 30-6 in the regular season: they never stop.
The unyielding Aces loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, hopeful for a dramatic rally in front of their home fans. But a tired, grunting Austin Morris came in clutch for the Green and White, forcing a deep fly out that Orr secured in left field to clinch the victory. Morris only allowed one hit, with six strikeouts across four innings of work. It was an impressive effort by the right-hander, who pitched well against an admittedly difficult Alexandria offense. Morris explained his approach as the game progressed.
“Just getting ahead in the count, keeping the balls on the ground, and letting my fielders work behind me because their offense was really on it tonight,” said Morris.
The pitcher also highlighted the importance of claiming game one in a short series like this.
“This first game was really huge because we don't know what to think [about] the other side over there. They could be down, they could be out already because you're ready to go home,” said Morris. “But I know tonight, we weren’t ready to go home.”
The Big Train will host game two of the LCS Finals on Thursday at 7 p.m. With a win, Bethesda retakes the CRSCBL title. If the Aces win, game three of the series goes back to Frank Mann Field in Alexandria on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
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