Rockville, MD – The Bethesda Big Train won their tenth Cal Ripken Sr. League Championship with a 7-3 win over the Alexandria Aces on Thursday. After losing the championship to Alexandria last year, the Big Train brought the trophy back home to Shirley Povich Field by sweeping the Aces in the three-game series.
After the game, Big Train manager Sal Colangelo gave most of the credit for this championship season to the players.
“[The players] come from quality programs, and you know, I'm just a small piece of it, and they do what they have to do. And it's just the grit, the swagger, the confidence to be resilient and they did it,” Colangelo said.
There was a strong desire amongst the Big Train players to finish the job on Thursday and not have to worry about a potential game three. And yet, it was the Aces who struck first in the top of the second. With runners at the corners, centerfielder Nick Gregory hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field to make it 1-0.
Bethesda, though, quickly responded. Jason Schiavone (James Madison) just missed his fourth home run of the League Championship Series with a deep drive off the wall in center field, but he was still able to leg out a double. Schiavone then moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a wild pitch, tying the game at one.
Outside of those two second inning runs, both starting pitchers pitched well. Aces starter Ryan Edmonds walked four and allowed a hit in four innings, but he was able to work out of jams and only allowed one run.
Jack Hostetler (Whitman College) started for the Big Train and had his best start of the season. In six and one third innings, Hostetler struck out five and only allowed one run. Hostetler gave lots of credit to the fielders behind him for helping him get through a tough Aces lineup.
“I couldn't be more grateful for all those fielders out there making all those plays because some of those balls were hit really hard and they ended up in their gloves. So yeah, it was a good team win today for sure,” Hostetler said.
Hostetler put Bethesda in a position to win, and in the top of the sixth, the Big Train took advantage of Alexandria’s poor defense to take a commanding lead. After Schiavone and Jack Guerrero (James Madison) reached on a walk and single respectively, Casey Bishop (Towson) dribbled a soft ground ball to Aces shortstop Dylan Grego with two outs. Grego could not get a handle on the ball and threw it wide right of first base, allowing Schiavone and Guerrero to come home and put the Big Train on top.
On the very next play, Zeb Ruddell (LSU) rocketed a ball to left center field that glanced off Gregory’s glove. Bishop easily scored after the error, giving Bethesda a 4-1 lead.
The wheels fell off for Alexandria in the bottom of the seventh inning as the Green and White scored three insurance runs to pad their lead to 7-1. Guerrero drove in the first run of the big inning with an RBI single. The Aces then played sloppily as the Big Train scored two more runs after an Aces wild pitch and another error from Grego.
With the Big Train in control, Max Martzolf (Florida Atlantic) got the final eight outs to secure Bethesda’s championship. The Aces were able to push across two runs in the top of the ninth inning to make the score 7-3, but their catcher Tim Nicholson flew out to Jacob Orr (Maryland) in deep left field to end the ballgame and the series.
Schiavone won the League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award. In the series, Schiavone had three home runs, eight RBIs, a .571 batting average and a 2.112 OPS. This championship was extra meaningful for Schiavone since he was one of the few returning players to lose to the Aces last year.
“Last year, it was like a tough ending for me. We all competed last year but I mean, this year, we played really well today and things worked out for us, and I know we got the best team,” Schiavone said. “I wouldn’t take anybody else ever these guys, and I couldn't be happier.”
The Big Train and the Aces have played each other in the past three League Championship Series in what some high-level team officials have dubbed: “The Trilogy.” Bethesda has won two of the three meetings, and Bethesda and Alexandria have started a great rivalry atop the Ripken League.
“Coach Berset and his organization are class acts, and they do it the right way,” Colangelo said. “They're gonna be in the top every year because [Berset] does it the right way.”
Big Train team president and founder Bruce Adams was especially impressed by the team’s morale and resilience, attributing those traits to the team’s success.
“I was really impressed. You know, we lost a bunch of games, and we lost some games to some bad teams, and the morale continued to be high,” Adams said. “I mean, [the team] really seem to like each other. They bonded well, and here's the result of it, you know, they pulled it together and were exceptional in the playoffs.”
The summer collegiate season poses a unique challenge. Most come to Bethesda right after the end of exhausting college seasons and go right into a 36-game regular season in the teeth of the DMV summer. There are long days and drives, rainouts, doubleheaders, and all of baseball's unique challenges, both physical and mental. However, despite its ups and downs, this Big Train team proved that it isn't always about dominance throughout the long regular season but about finding a groove at the right time. Over these last 5 days, the Big Train did that, and it's a big reason why they are champions.
Baseball is a weird game that often defies logic. Some teams make it look easy, some make it look hard. But all we'll remember about the 2023 Bethesda Big Train is that they ended up back on top.
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