Prepare the whistle, the Bethesda Big Train has a chance at the Cal Ripken League title once again. Bethesda came out strong against the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts Tuesday night, winning 6-3 to crush the T-Bolts' hopes of a sweep and even the series. The two teams will return to Shirley Povich Field Wednesday for the final tie breaking game of the series. Bethesda looks to win the crown for the fourth consecutive year in a row on the home front, Big Train fans cheering along behind them.
After struggling to score in game one, Big Train took the lead early Tuesday, scoring in the top of the first. In his first plate appearance of the game, Gio Diaz (St. Mary’s CA) was walked by the T-Bolts’ starting pitcher. No surprise--Diaz quickly stole second to put himself in scoring position. Christian Jayne (East Carolina) advanced Diaz closer to home on a ground out to first. Matt Thomas (William & Mary) singled in Diaz to put Bethesda on the board. The Big Train now led the Thunderbolts 1-0, an early lead for a wildly competitive evening of baseball.
Bethesda would see further offensive action in the top of the third. One additional run would bring the lead up to 2-0 over Silver Spring. Thomas smacked a double to right field in his second at-bat, ultimately being brought in on another double by teammate Drew Hamrock (Virginia). The Big Train kept on chugging into the top of the fourth. Keith Torres III (Sacramento State University) gained base on a single to left field, advancing to second on a single by Cade Hunter (Virginia Tech). Making contact on the third pitch, Diaz would single to center field and bring Torres home, making it 3-0.
Silver Spring would return the favor in the bottom of the fourth. After starting things off with a double, the Thunderbolts brought one of their own home to cut Bethesda’s lead 3-1. Tension started to rise in the bottom of the fifth. The Thunderbolts tied the game on a two-run homer, now making the already tense game a true nail biter.
Though Silver Spring never saw the lead, a tie was enough to get the blood flowing for the Big Train. Scoreless through the sixth, the Big Train brought in two runs in the seventh. Kobe Kato (University of Arizona) was hit by the opposing T-bolts’ pitcher. Crushing a triple to right field, Hamrock would earn his second RBI of the game as he brought Kato home and the lead back to the Big Train.
“I was trying to put a good swing on it and get our guys in. We needed to get a lead so we could take care of business for the rest of the game,” Hamrock said of his go-ahead RBI triple.
Hamrock would find his way home with help from teammate Torres and Bethesda took back the lead at 5-3. Big Train got into a jam in the bottom of the seventh, but Elliot Zoellner (Maryland) led the way out of the jam. Zoellner struck out two of the opposing Silver Spring batters, one in the seventh and one in the eighth. Strategic fielding and pitching held the T-Bolts’ back from any glimmer of hope in taking both the lead and the crown.
“It was intense to say the least. I knew my teammates were behind me and they had my back. I was looking to get a groundball and the last out to get back to the dugout,” Zoellner said of the intensity from the mound.
Coming in for the final out of the eighth and striking out two of the final three batters in the ninth, Chase Lee (Alabama), or the Viper, cemented the fate of the T-bolts and ensuring a game three for the Big Train. He felt the intensity of the game from the dugout for most of the night, but was ready to go in the late innings.
“It’s what you play for, it almost felt like school ball. It was a really competitive game, back and forth most of the game. It was fun to go out there and finish it off,” Lee said of the competitive evening.
Bethesda will be hosting Silver Spring for the tie-breaking game of the championship playoffs. Be sure to come out to Shirley Povich Field in numbers as Bethesda tries to defend their throne. The Big Train chants will ring through the night!
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