The Bethesda Big Train (29-6) came into Friday night's contest against the Gaithersburg Giants (14-19) rocking an 11-game winning streak, which seemed in jeopardy multiple times during this wild and bizarre game. However, ultimately, the train was unable to be slowed down, pulling away with an eventual 9-7 victory over the Gaithersburg Giants.
Friday night's game defined a team-wide victory. Despite scoring nine runs, Bethesda only had two players collect RBIs--Matt Thomas (William and Mary) tallied three while Cade Hunter (Virginia Tech) brought home one more. Additionally, seven different pitchers made an appearance for Bethesda, surrendering a total of seven runs with six of those being earned.
Teamwork shined early on in this wild game when Bethesda struck early with the game's first run in the first inning. A Thomas grounder to short allowed Gio Diaz (St. Mary's CA) to cross home, bringing home the game's first run and giving the Big Train an early 1-0 lead on a fielder's choice. Continuing the night's theme, a lengthy at-bat by Diaz forced the Giants' pitcher into making a costly mistake as a wild pitch brought home Drew Hamrock (Virginia), pushing the Big Train to a 2-0 lead at the end of two.
Strong pitching by both the Big Train's starter Anthony Piccolino (James Madison) for three innings and Kelli Jenkins (St. Mary's MD) for a lone inning in the fourth held the Giants scoreless through four. The offense, however, also stagnated for a couple innings, leading to a 2-0 advantage entering the fifth. Again in the fifth, Ryan Metz (Virginia Tech) shut down the Giants for Bethesda, opening the door for Diaz to score on an error and Hunter to single home Christian Jayne (East Carolina) for two more insurance runs and a 4-0 Big Train lead. But then the game started to get a little crazy.
Gaithersburg racked up four runs in the top of the sixth and knotted up the score, 4-4. Big Train failed to score in the bottom of that inning and proceeded to allow yet another run to begin the seventh to fall behind 5-4, Bethesda's momentum had evaporated. Bethesda's winning streak, a streak so long it took three weeks to create, dangled in the balance, seriously in jeopardy. Like all great teams typically do, though, the Big Train had an answer.
Entering the bottom of the seventh trailing 5-4, the Big Train posted three runs and jumped out to a renewed lead. With the bases loaded, none other than Thomas, the Cal Ripken League's current RBI leader, strutted to the plate. With a smooth swing of the bat, he flipped the Big Train's fortune as his two RBI single to right field repositioned the Big Train from trailing 5-4 to leading 6-5. Kobe Kato (Arizona) crossed home on an error by the Giants' second baseman on a Thomas steal attempt, pushing Bethesda to a two-run 7-5 lead.
Still, though, the game was hardly put away. Gaithersburg fired right back in the eighth inning with a revenge run of their own, drawing closer yet again at 7-6. Yet when the Big Train brought in Chase Lee (Alabama) for relief, that window of opportunity quickly closed for Gaithersburg, who then stalled the rest of the inning. That allowed Bethesda to re-extend their lead with a crucial pair of runs of their own in the bottom of the eighth; first on a balk, which scored Tate Soderstrom (Arizona) from third , and then on a wild pitch that brought home Diaz.
That pair of runs extended the lead to 9-6, the largest since Bethesda held a 4-0 lead in the fifth. With Lee on the mound, Bethesda oozed confidence going into the ninth. The right-hander has performed extremely well this season for the Big Train--his arrival has typically signaled the end of the game for Big Train opponents this season, as he sports an impressive 1.12 ERA.
However, with the help of an error, the Giants atypically managed to squeak out a run against the stud, albeit unearned. That closing run cut the lead to 9-7, but a fielder's choice and two quick strikeouts soon ended the comeback attempt for Gaithersburg and finalized Lee's seventh save and Bethesda's 29th victory on the year.
Bethesda had closed out a nail-biter. With three more RBIs Friday night, Thomas now has a league-best 38 RBIs for the season. After the game, he spoke of his achievements.
"It's definitely cool. Like I said I couldn't do it without the guys in front of me getting on base. The top of our order is really, really good. It's definitely fun being in the middle of the order and always hitting with guys on base. Now that Jacob [Southern] is gone I've got some big shoes to fill."
Thomas also commented on the night's historic moment--the first female player in Big Train (and Cal Ripken League) history, Kelli Jenkins, making her debut.
"That was special--crazy to see. She went out there and competed just like all of us and put up the big zero that we needed in that part of the game."
Jenkins chimed in as well, saying, "It was a lot of fun playing for Big Train tonight, getting to play with a lot of really good players. With the Big Train I'm trying to increase my percentages, work on my off-speed pitches, and work ahead."
She also gave a nod to her childhood inspiration. "My older brother--he plays baseball in college, and I've really been looking up to him all these years, and I really am just trying to be like him."
This game marks Bethesda's twelfth consecutive victory, tying the team winning-streak record. Due to excessive heat expected on Saturday night, the Big Train's road match-up with the FCA Braves has been cancelled. The team will be back in action Sunday evening to square off with the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts in Silver Spring.
While the Big Train have already locked up the regular season title in the Cal Ripken League, manager Sal Colangelo has continued to play his starters, showing the team has no intentions of letting their foot off the gas and cruising into the playoffs. That means you'll still want to catch the season series finale between the Thunderbolts and Big Train, who--despite sitting in second place currently--Bethesda has feasted upon this season, boasting a strong 6-1 head-to-head record.
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