The Bethesda Big Train won their final regular season game of the 2016 season against the Gaithersburg Giants, but unfortunately that was not enough to clinch the #1 seed in the Cal Ripken League playoffs, which begin on Monday for the Big Train. Nevertheless, the 4-1 victory was a fitting end to a Big Train season that saw the team perform very well, entering the playoffs with a 28-12 regular season record.
“28 wins a year in summer baseball, that’s pretty good,” manager Sal Colangelo said. “And I’m happy for them, not me, them. It’s been an experience that they will never forget. …. It’s been a blessing, and I couldn’t have been more blessed with a group of guys that were this awesome.”
One such “awesome” player is Chris Monaco (Virginia Tech University) who returned from his brief stint as a slugging pinch-hitter to start for the Big Train in Friday’s season finale. Monaco went three innings, allowing only two hits and one unearned run.
“Monaco was good. Monaco did exactly what we needed him to do,” Colangelo said. “[Going three innings] was planned, and he did well.”
Monaco, and the rest of the Bethesda pitching staff, benefitted early on from the Big Train offense.
The Big Train first struck in the bottom of the first. Logan Farrar (Virginia Commonwealth University) worked the count full (the first of many long counts for Bethesda) then doubled to left. He then advanced to third on a wild pitch and, two pitches later, he scored the first run of the game on a sacrifice fly to left field off the bat of Allen Smoot (University of San Francisco).
In the top of the second, the Giants scored their lone run of the game on a single, an error, and a RBI groundout. However, they would have doubled their run total if it had not been for a heads-up play by left fielder Vinny Esposito (Sacramento State). With runners on first and second, Giants shortstop Patrick Causa (Mount St. Mary’s University) roped a single to left. As the lead runner rounded third and sprinted home, Esposito quickly gathered the ball and launched it to Smoot at third, gunning down the trail runner, and ending the half-inning, before the run could score.
Esposito also came through on offense, driving in the Big Train’s go-ahead run and scoring an insurance run in the bottom of the third. After reaching on an error to lead off the half-inning, second baseman Clayton Daniel (Jacksonville State University) stole both second and third, putting him in a prime position to score if any of his teammates made good contact. Esposito did just that, smoking a single to left-center field, scoring Daniel. Esposito himself then came around to score, moving to second on a well-placed sacrifice bunt by Cody Brown (Mississippi State University) and then third on an error by the Giants catcher who, after being unable to field the bunt cleanly, threw it into right field, before reaching home on a sacrifice fly by Justin Morris (University of Maryland).
When asked about Esposito’s recent hot streak (.533 batting average over his last five games, 1-for-1 with three walks Friday), Colangelo attributed it to his hard work: “[Esposito] is the first one at the ballpark, the first one in the cage, the first one to hit off the tee, the first one to get ready to play. And when you do things like that, good things happen.”
In the fourth, the Big Train scored their last run of the game by capitalizing on mistakes by the Giants pitcher. The first mistake was walking Garrett Kueber (Moorpark College), who took second during Austin Hale’s (Stetson University) at-bat. The second mistake was a balk, which advanced Kueber to third, allowing him to score easily on a Farrar groundout.
After the fourth, the game was largely dominated by the Bethesda bullpen, which combined to allow five hits over six excellent scoreless innings. Big Train starting pitchers Johnny York (St. Mary’s College) and Drew Strotman (St. Mary’s College) each pitched a hitless inning in preparation for their upcoming playoff starts.
Kyle Marman (Florida Atlantic University) was perhaps the most notable of the bunch, pitching a quick 1-2-3 seventh inning, inducing swinging strikeouts from the first and last batter.
“Marman’s a bulldog,” Colangelo said. “He’s tough to hit.”
As the game drew to a close in the ninth, the Big Train took a moment to honor Farrar and Brown, each of whom has played three seasons for Bethesda, and has made the All-Star Game twice. Both left the field to an ovation from the fans.
“It was nice [to be able to do that],” Colangelo said. “These guys have busted their bottoms for this organization, for me, and it’s just a standing ‘O’ for those guys. It means a lot not just for me, but for the community, for Bethesda.”
Big Train will return to action for the second round of the playoffs on Monday at 7:30 PM at Shirley Povich Field.
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