The #18 nationally ranked Bethesda Big Train and #20 ranked Baltimore Redbirds faced off in a marathon Game 1 of the League Championship Series Friday, that, after 14 pitchers and 14 gut-wrenching innings, was ultimately suspended.
For the familiar foes – who will conclude Game 1 on Saturday in Bethesda before the start of Game 2 – a Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League Championship Series meeting is almost second nature. The powerhouses squared off in the finals for the seventh consecutive season.
Despite neither team calling on their ace, the series opener featured two starters with sub-two earned run averages. Chris Monaco (Virginia Tech) got the start defending a 1.95 ERA on the season, opposed by Redbirds hurler Dakota Forsyth who held an earned run average of 1.84.
The Big Train struck the game’s first significant blow, chasing Forsyth in the fifth inning. Down 1-0, the result of a Stuart Fairchild triple and Logan Warmoth single in the third, Justin Morris (Maryland) led off the inning with a walk. After retiring the next two batters, Forsyth surrendered a single to Cody Brown (Mississippi State) and a four-pitch walk to Zach Kirtley (St. Mary’s, Calif.) setting the table for resident RBI machine Chris Lewis (Sacramento State).
With the RBI crown already wrapped up, Lewis had already brought home 37 Big Train teammates this summer, 14 more than four players tied for second at 23 RBIs. Only 33 players in the entire Cal Ripken League have registered enough runs batted in to cover the gap between the Big Train slugger and those tied for second place.
Needless to say, Lewis felt the championship series a fitting time to extend that lead. The senior roped the third pitch he saw in his third at-bat foul down the third baseline, effectively timing up the right-hander he had singled off of one at-bat prior. After working a 2-2 count, Lewis got the best of the Redbirds starter, clearing his hands and pulling a single into left to plate Morris and Brown for their third and fourth postseason runs respectively.
Lewis came within inches of connecting for his 40th RBI of the season in the seventh when, after Brown's playoff-leading fourth double in the seventh, he flared a liner down the right field line that fell inches foul.
The contest remained 2-1 in favor of Bethesda until the bottom of the seventh. Miller Trevvett (Radford) entered his third straight postseason game, greeted immediately by a stout defensive play by Andrew Bechtold (Maryland) who dove to snag the first out. Looking like his usual self – the sophomore had a 0.49 ERA which dropped to 0.34 after 2.1 innings of work in the Divisional Championship against Herndon – he followed with a quick three-pitch strikeout looking.
Baltimore had other ideas. A ground ball with eyes followed by a seeing-eye single put two runners on with two out. Trevvett then allowed just his eighth walk of the season and was pulled in favor of Walker Sheller (Stetson).
After jumping ahead of the three-hitter Logan Warmoth with a dandy of a 1-2 curveball, Sheller induced the inning ending ground out Bethesda needed to escape the jam, but it was mishandled at second base by Brandon Hunley (Sacramento State) allowing one unearned run to score knotting the game at two. In perfect baseball fashion, the next ball was hit to Hunley, this time a routine putout at first for the inning’s final out.
“They’re a great team they do things the right way,” said Colangelo, “they capitalized on two errors and scored two runs, we don’t make two errors we’re out of here in the ninth.”
The Big Train shot them selves in the foot in the top of the eighth inning after Brandon Gum (George Mason) was thrown out on a delayed steal attempt after working a one-out walk. Hunley responded with a single roped up the middle, his fourth hit of the postseason including one dinger, followed by a Morris double to center just out of the reach of a diving Will Golsan putting runners on second and third with two outs.
The Redbirds pen held strong, as Joey Sullivan got Bechtold swinging to end the inning. Baltimore’s relievers would toss 9 1/3 innings of scoreless ball until the game’s suspension, balancing six hits and three walks with nine strikeouts.
Leading off the bottom half of the eighth, Ben Breazeale singled and reached second on a throwing error by Kirtley. Looking to finesse across the winning run, Redbirds manager Larry Sheets bunted Breazeale to third bringing slugger Mac Caples – whose regular season on-base plus slugging percentage was one point shy of 1.000 – to the plate with one out. Sheller shut the door despite the error, getting Caples to foul the seventh pitch of the at-bat into Morris’ waiting glove and blowing his fastball by pinch-hitter Zach Jancarski to end the frame. The junior from Ponte Vedra Beach jumped off the mound with an emotionally hyped fist pump.
From the eighth to fourteenth innings, the box score resembled a fresh carton of eggs. Neither team scored a run in the final seven innings Game 1’s opening act.
After starting Monaco, Colangelo called on the relief efforts of Trevvett, Sheller, Mike Rescigno (Maryland), Tyler Tobin (George Mason), Josh Thorne (Stetson), Alex Calvert (South Carolina), and Blake Smith (Mississippi State). The staff combined to allow one earned run, nine hits, while striking out 11.
“They’ve been great,” Colangelo said of his bullpen after the game’s suspension, “they’re doing what they have to do and making pitches when they have to come in and make pitches.”
With Game 2 already scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda, the two teams will conclude Friday’s game beginning at 6:00 p.m.
Despite the fanfare and having lost three consecutive finals to their rival, Colangelo maintained tomorrow’s continuation will be treated just like any other game.
“We’ll stay with the program, with the scouting report, and stick to what we need to do,” he said. "You got two of the best teams in the country going at it, something’s got to give.”
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