Top Ten Thursdays is a weekly bigtrain.tv show that highlights the top 10 games in Bethesda Big Train history, as voted on by team historian Bill Hickman, manager Sal Colangelo and founder Bruce Adams. As each game is unveiled, we will bring you a written flashback here on bigtrain.org.
Host Alex Drain, with the help of Colangelo and various guests, will break down each game, as those involved discuss what they remember and the significance of each contest. Each episode will serve as a flashback to classic moments in Big Train history, in lieu of actual games during the 2020 summer.
Today we look at Game #7, from July 28, 2018 against the Baltimore Redbirds.
Fierce rivals who had met in the championship every year for a decade, Big Train hosted the Baltimore Redbirds at Povich Field to open up the 2018 Cal Ripken League Championship series.
The Big Train boasted a 34-6 record, good for the CRCBL regular season title and the best record in Big Train history. Bethesda manager Sal Colangelo knew his team would be ready to dig deep to cross the finish line, in large part because of the team's work ethic and mentality.
“What I definitely remember was that team was a lot of blue-collar guys,” Colangelo said. “We just had a lot of clutch hitting, a lot of clutch play, but the guys came to the ballpark and just wanted to play every single day. So, it was a very, very good team.”
The game began with a scoreless first inning, but there would be runs galore in the next seven innings. Christian Hlinka opened the scoring for the Redbirds in the second, but in the bottom of the frame, the Big Train reclaimed the lead on a two-run single by Ben Martz (UC Santa Barbara).
An RBI double from Carson Taylor (Virginia Tech) and a run-scoring double-play ball from Jacob Westerman (San Francisco) in the third and fourth innings, respectively, extended Bethesda’s lead to 4-1, but in the top of the fifth, Baltimore came roaring back.Tim Elko hit an RBI single to cut the deficit to two, and then Hlinka’s two-run double leveled the score at four apiece.
“I do remember giving up quite a few big hits, and I do remember my curveball was shaky that day,” Big Train starter Chris Clarke (Southern California) said.
Clarke tossed five innings, giving up six hits and four earned runs, prompting Colangelo to go to the bullpen just over the halfway point in the contest. The pitching change didn’t stop the Redbirds’ momentum, as the visitors tacked on a run in both the sixth and seventh innings to make it 6-4. Fortunately for Colangelo’s squad, the late-game rally began in the bottom of the seventh while down two.
Eventual Cal Ripken League regular season and playoff MVP Alec Burleson (East Carolina) hit a double to bring in a run. Then, Jacob Southern (Jacksonville) walked with the bases loaded, bringing the game to a 6-6 deadlock.
“[Burleson] could use all parts of the field, most of his home runs would go to right field — he was a left-handed hitter — he had tons of pull power, but he could also go opposite field and just had good knowledge of the strike zone,” former Big Train broadcaster PJ Glasser said.
Glasser recalled an earlier meeting with the Redbirds, when they pulled the third baseman and opted for a four-man outfield against Burleson, showing the respect of his batting ability.
Baltimore answered in the top of the eighth with back-to-back home runs from Anthony Servideo (Ole Miss) and Alex Tappen (Virginia) to push the Redbirds’ lead back to two.
Then, the Big Train’s engine began to roar.
An error, a single and a hit by pitch juiced the bases for Bethesda in the bottom of the eighth with no outs. Then, Tyler Villaroman (San Francisco) grounded out to bring one run in, and Taylor did the same in the next at bat. Tied at eight, Burleson singled to score Fox Semones (James Madison), giving the Big Train the lead for the first time since the bottom of the fourth.
Gavin Hinchliffe (Kansas State) sealed the game for Bethesda after striking out two batters and forcing one to ground out. After game one of the 2018 LCS Championship, the Big Train led the series, 1-0.
Baltimore would go on to win game two by a 3-1 score, and due to rain, game three was never played, meaning the teams were crowned co-champions of the LCS.
Stay tuned to BigTrain.TV for more content and weekly shows. This Thursday, Drain will highlight Game #6, which took place in July 2017.
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