As the bottom of the fifth inning commenced at Criswell Automotive Field on Tuesday night, a slight drizzle began to fall during game two of the Bethesda Big Train’s Cal Ripken League Semifinal Series against the Gaithersburg Giants
In the top of the sixth, with the Big Train leading 2–0, that drizzle picked up in intensity, and so did the Big Train offense.
An eight-run sixth inning was the difference for Bethesda in a 12-3 victory over the Giants that clinched a semifinals series sweep. With the win, the Big Train advance to the League Championship Series and are now one series win away from their sixth straight championship. After the game, it was a simple message from manager Sal Colangelo. Enjoy the series win, but do not rest on laurels.
“Be happy,” he said. “You guys worked hard but we still have two more to go.”
In the eight-run sixth, the Big Train loaded the bases thanks with no outs thanks to singles from Sean Lane (Maryland) and TJ Rogers (Austin Peay State) and a walk of Warren Holzemer (Virginia Tech). Clay Wargo (Louisiana Lafayette) was hit by a pitch to bring in the Big Train’s third run. Three walks and another hit by pitch subsequently brought three more runs in, extending the team’s lead to 6–0. Like the rain, which didn't stop until the later innings, the Train kept at it.
Emilien Pitre (Kentucky) ripped a two-run single into right field scoring Jason Schiavone (James Madison) and Garrett Felix (Nicholls State), who had reached on a walk and a HBP, respectively. A sacrifice fly by Rogers tacked onto the lead. By the end of the inning, the Big Train had reached double digits on the scoreboard and sat pretty up 10-0. Their dugout was loud and boisterous, while the Giants' bench became funereal. The Big Train's offensive outburst was something the players have expected for a while.
“I still believe we have a statement to make offensively,” catcher Baylor Cobb (Louisiana Tech), who went 2-for-4 at the plate Tuesday night, said. “We want to put up 20 or 30 runs on somebody in one game and make them like it. I feel like our hitters are ready to do that. We’ve been hot these last two games.”
Big Train players celebrate their 12-3 win over the Gaithersburg Giants on Tuesday night. (Photo courtesy of Anna Yuan.)
The Big Train came out of the gate determined to end the series in Gaithersburg. After Felix singled to lead off the game, stole second, and advanced to third on a groundout, Lane attempted a delayed steal of second with two outs. The delay caught the Giants by surprise. Felix scored and while Lane was out trying to steal second, the Big Train had taken a 1-0 lead.
After three quiet innings, the Big Train extended their lead in the 5th. Singles from Cobb and Schiavone led off the inning, and Felix knocked in Cobb with his third hit of the night, extending the Bethesda lead to 2–0. Felix finished the game going 3-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored. An extraordinarily patient hitter, Felix's plan was to attack strikes.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and swing at balls in the zone,” Felix said. “The pitcher was filling up the zone for the most part so I was just trying to have good at-bats so I can help the team win.”
After the impressive sixth inning, Bethesda added two more runs in the top of the ninth. Colton Hegwood (Louisiana Tech) tripled and scored on a wild pith. DM Jefferson (Notre Dame) then hit a sacrifice fly to deep right to score Cobb, putting the game out of reach for good with a 12–3 lead.
Nicholas Del Prado (Florida Atlantic) got the start on the mound for the Big Train and was phenomenal through five innings of work, giving up just one hit and one walk and striking out eight Giants. He has been a model of consistency for Bethesda this summer. His manager recognizes such excellence when he sees it.
“He kept us in the game,” Colangelo said. “He made pitches when he needed to. The kid's a workhorse and wants to win.”
Despite giving up three runs and struggling with control in moments, the Big Train bullpen, including Andrew Johnson (Maryland) and Todd Mozoki (James Madison), settled down and quieted the Gaithersburg bats, ultimately ending the Giants' season.
Now, Bethesda will face the winner of the Alexandria Aces-Metro SOCO Braves series. So far, the Aces hold a 1–0 series lead with game two of the series beginning Wednesday. Game 1 of the League Championship Series will be on Friday, July 29, with the location dependent on the results of the Aces-Braves contest.
Over the last two games, the Big Train have established an offensive mindset that has enabled them to score 25 runs. It's a mindset they hope to continue as the season reaches its denouement. Tuesday night's leadoff hitter summarized what is necessary for the team to win those last two games.
“Offensively, we got to keep being aggressive and stay within our approach,” Felix said. "Pitching-wise, we just got to keep filling up the strikes and play some clean defense. I think we’ll be alright.”
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