Lee, Kato Sweep MOP Honors; 13 Total Named All-League
2019 was a historic season for the Bethesda Big Train. Bethesda took home their eighth league championship after a 30-7 regular season and a victory in the league championship series over the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts. But this wasn't on the back of one star carrying the load; players across the roster played critical roles in bringing another championship to Shirley Povich Field.
As a result, 11 Big Train players earned first-team All-Cal Ripken League honors, two more took home second-team honors and Big Train swept the league's Pitcher and Offensive Player of the Year awards, which went to Chase Lee (Alabama) and Kobe Kato (Arizona) respectively. Here's a look at the winners.
Cal Ripken League Pitcher and Offensive Player of the Year:
First-Team All Cal Ripken League & Cal Ripken League Pitcher Of The Year Chase Lee (Alabama): There was no pitcher that hitters hated facing more than Alabama's Lee. The Big Train closer was as close to unhittable as it gets, as he posted an ERA of 1.08 in the regular season and in the postseason did not allow a single hit in 2.1 innings of work. Perhaps the most impressive stat from Lee was that he led the league in strikeouts with 51 despite only pitching 26 innings. The side-armer kept hitters off balance all-season long and ran away with one of the leagues biggest honors.
First-Team All Cal Ripken League & Cal Ripken League Offensive Player Of The Year Kobe Kato (Arizona): What more can anyone say about the regular season Kato put together? A slash line of .441/.612/.571 thanks to a league-record 48 walks. Kato also stole 26 bases and scored 39 runs, allowing him to run away with the league's highest honor. In addition to being an outstanding player on the field, Kato's big personality kept the dugout loose and had young fans gravitating towards him. It was an unforgettable season for Kato who will go down as one of the best to ever put on the Big Train green.
First Team All Cal Ripken League:
Catcher Jacob Southern (Jacksonville): In his second year in Bethesda, Southern again tore the cover off the baseball. He hit .330 with eight home runs, 31 RBIs and a league-best 12 doubles in just 30 games played as he proved to be one of the most feared hitters in the Cal Ripken League. His defense behind the plate, both in blocking pitches and gunning down runners, was unmatched.
Second baseman Gio Diaz (St. Mary's CA): Of all Big Train players, Diaz was among the most reliable. The middle infielder hit .313 in the regular season and broke a Cal Ripken League single-season record with 39 stolen bases. In addition to his first-team honor, he also won all-star game MVP back in July after driving in four finishing a triple short of the cycle in the midsummer classic.
Shortstop Keith Torres III (Sacramento State): Pairing with Diaz up the middle, Torres helped create the league's best middle infield duo. Torres hit .265 for Bethesda while playing outstanding defense at both shortstop and second base. One of Torres's best moments came on June 27 against Silver Spring when he went 3-5 with an RBI and had a clean steal of home plate in a 15-5 Bethesda victory.
Outfielder Christian Jayne (East Carolina): After arriving late due to East Carolina's run in the NCAA tournament, Jayne did not miss a beat when he joined the Big Train a week into the season. Jayne hit .317 on the season and drove in 25 runs.
Utilityman Matt Thomas (Wiliam & Mary): The Big Train would not have been league champions without Thomas. He played outfield, third base, first base and catcher during the season and despite showing up to the ballpark not knowing where he would play in the field raked at the plate. He led the Cal Ripken League with 43 regular season RBIs and in the playoffs was named league championship series MVP after hitting a clutch home run in game three against Silver Spring.
Starting Pitcher Dalton Ponce (St. Mary's CA): Ponce was the ace of the Big Train's starting rotation. He finished tied for the league lead in wins with his teammate Naumann with five. In addition, his 3.38 ERA was the second-best in the league, and his 44 strikeouts were tied for the second most.
Starting Pitcher Ryan Okuda (Virginia Tech): Ponce might have been the ace, but Okuda also had a fantastic summer season for the Big Train. Okuda posted a stellar 1.12 ERA in five regular-season starts and finished the season with a record of 3-0. In the postseason, Okuda kept the Big Train's championship hopes alive when he pitched six innings of one-run ball in game three of the championship series against the T-Bolts.
Relief Pitcher Anthony Piccolino (James Madison): In his second summer with the Big Train, Piccolino made great strides. He finished the regular season with a stellar 1.89 ERA making two starts and eight relief appearances. He also saw time in the outfield early in the season.
Relief Pitcher Elliot Zoellner (Maryland): Zoellner was among the Big Train's most reliable bullpen arms. In 15 innings of work in the regular season, the Old Line State native posted a 1.20 ERA and struck out 15 batters.
Second Team All-Cal Ripken League:
Outfielder Tate Soderstrom (Arizona): Soderstrom was an important part of the Big Train's lineup. Playing both in right field and serving as the designated hitter Soderstrom batted .252 in the regular season with a .399 on-base percentage and in game-two of the semifinals against the Alexandria Aces went 5-6 with a home run in an outstanding postseason performance.
Relief Pitcher Tyler Naumann (Jacksonville): Naumann put together a strong summer out of the Big Train bullpen. He finished the regular season with an ERA of 4.98 and finished tied among all Cal Ripken league pitchers in wins with five, while striking out 23 in 21.2 innings.
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