Ten teams, eight weeks, over 200 total games. In the end, only one team was left standing – the Bethesda Big Train.
Bethesda clinched a 4-2 victory over the Baltimore Redbirds in the decisive Game 3 of the League Championship Series to win back-to-back Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League titles. This is also the Big Train’s sixth title in 13 years in the Cal Ripken League.
“To win in back-to-back seasons, anywhere, in any type of sporting event, is hard, especially for a bunch of guys who came from all over the country,” Colangelo said. “So to do it is truly amazing. I don’t know what to say; I’m speechless.”
After two blowout wins in the first two games of the series – Bethesda took Game 1, 14-3, and Baltimore took Game 2, 15-4 – manager Sal Colangelo predicted a close contest in Game 3.
It certainly lived up to the hype. The 2017 season came to a close on a nail-biting, hard-fought game. Starter Tyler Smith (East Carolina), asked to pitch in one of the biggest games of his young baseball career, was perfect through the first 4.1 innings until he gave up a single to the 11th batter he faced. He went on to throw five shutout innings of two-hit ball.
“It feels great knowing that I contributed to the team getting a championship,” Smith said. “I just wanted to go out there and compete for as long as I can, as hard as I can.”
“[Tyler] is a competitor,” Colangelo said. “He couldn’t wait to get the baseball. He gave us everything he did, made pitches when he needed to make pitches, and he gave us five shutout innings.”
Catcher Justin Morris (Maryland) delivered the game’s big blow, a three-RBI double in the fourth that gave the Big Train a lead they would not surrender.
“I was just looking for a fastball,” Morris said about his approach in that at-bat. “When I got to [a 3-2 count], I was sitting on a fastball and luckily I put a good swing on it.”
Morris’s difference-making hit on Sunday, as well as his .500 average (6-for-12), four RBI and five runs scored in the playoffs, earned him the League Championship Series Most Outstanding Player award.
“It means a lot,” Morris said about the honor. “It could have been every one of us. It was a whole team effort the whole season and the whole postseason.”
Stephen Schoch (Maryland-Baltimore) finished his unbelievable 2017 season by closing out the final two innings. After the Redbirds put baserunners on in the eighth and ninth innings, Schoch pitched out of both jams – assisted by a huge caught-stealing by Morris in the eighth – to get through his summer season without giving up a single earned run.
“I honestly wasn’t nervous,” Colangelo joked about the last two innings. “[Schoch] is amazing. In my opinion, he is the relief pitcher of the year.”
As the players celebrated with their coaches and families after the game, it was the perfect ending to such a successful summer. Bethesda went a league-best 31-9 during the regular season, and finished with an overall 35-10 record. Big Train players were also consistently atop CRCBL statistical leaderboards.
“These guys stepped up to every challenge,” Colangelo said. “We could be down a couple of runs, [but] we were going to win; [if we] needed to get a big hit, we get it; needed a walk-off home run, we get it. These guys did everything they needed to do. You have your ups and downs, [but] it just showed the character of these guys.”
Congratulations to the 2017 Big Train! And thank you, fans, for another outstanding season of summer collegiate baseball in Bethesda.
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