Counting down the greatest games in Big Train history

by Patrick Sanderson, Erin Byard and Noah Ziegler

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.

View the full Top Ten Thursdays series here, and click on each of the Top Ten titles on this page to view that game's episode. 

#1 – July 28, 2011: Big Train 5, Southern Maryland Nationals 4
Bullpen locks down victory en route to national title 

The final episode of the Top Ten Thursdays countdown takes us back to 2011 for the greatest game in Big Train history. The Big Train took on a formidable Southern Maryland Nationals team at Shirley Povich Field in the second game of the Cal Ripken League Championship. Bethesda bested the Nationals, 5-4, in thrilling, come-frombehind fashion, and would go on to win the league title and earn the top ranking in all of summer baseball.

The 2011 Big Train squad was a championship caliber team from the start, maintaining a core group of players from the previous season, in which they had also won a title. The team proved themselves by claiming the regular season championship, and entered the playoffs as heavy favorites to win it all.

Only two wins away from capturing a third straight title, the Big Train faced their biggest test of their run on July 28 in the second-seeded Nationals.

Bethesda turned to Martin Agosta (St. Mary’s CA) to start the game on the mound. Agosta was able to hold the Nationals offense scoreless in the first three innings, allowing the Big Train to take the early 2-0 lead on RBI singles by Brennan Middleton (Tulane) and Michael Aldrete (San Jose State). Aldrete played a key role in this game at the plate, and was one of the most versatile players on the Big Train squad, also serving as the team’s closer.

“He could play short, he could play second, he could [play] left, he could throw 90 off the bump, he got everything out of his God given ability... he was special,” manager Sal Colangelo said.

In the top of the fourth, the Nationals responded with a pair of RBI singles and a sacrifice fly to take a 3-2 lead over the Big Train. The game went back and forth from there. The Nationals added another run in the following inning, which the Big Train then responded to with a tally of their own, bringing the score to 4-3 in the Nationals favor.

Bethesda rallied though, when Alex Hudak (Florida Atlantic) delivered a big two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the sixth to put the Big Train up 5-4.

Though the Big Train had the lead, there was plenty of drama still to come. The Nationals managed to put a runner in scoring position in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings.

The Big Train first looked to relief pitchers Mike Frank (Bowling Green) and Mike Kent (Clemson) who each put up scoreless innings against the tough Nationals batting order.

Aldrete then stepped onto the mound to finish the game in the ninth, and although Big Train fans were nervous when two runners got aboard, he was able to close out the contest unscathed. The Big Train won the game 5-4, advancing to the championship game where they would face the Baltimore Redbirds.

“Everybody was so talented to begin with, but also pitched really well that summer that they didn’t feel like they had to go out there and throw three or four innings, just by the number of players that you had listed in the box score they only had to throw one inning. They were talented #1 and they didn’t have to throw a lot of innings so they were able to go out and give it everything they had,” Middleton said.

The team won the championship over the Redbirds, which was reason enough to celebrate.

However, the real bonus came in the following days when Perfect Game Baseball named the Big Train number one in the nation among all collegiate summer teams. This stands as the first and only time the Big Train has carried out this feat in franchise history.

“Something about that team felt different from the beginning, it was clicking on all cylinders and winning at a rate that seemed unsustainable yet they were sustaining it. It was so fun to be a part of and bring that energy to the stadium. It just worked all year,” then-general manager Jordan Henry noted. 

 

#2 – July 31, 2019: Big Train 6, Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts 4
Thomas sparks late rally as Big Train wins fourth straight championship

The Big Train had already cemented themselves as a perennial powerhouse after winning three straight league championships, and in late July of 2019, the only thing standing between them and a fourth was the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts. Bethesda was a force to be reckoned with that summer, finishing atop the Cal Ripken regular league standings with an impressive record of 31-7, but claiming the postseason title over T-Bolts would be no easy feat. 

“I think if you were going to pick a team you would want to see the Big Train face it would have to be the T-Bolts in that final series,” broadcaster Shaun Salehi said. “You knew it was going to be the best matchup of the two best teams in the league.”

In the first game of the series, the Big Train suffered a stunning 9-0 loss at home. They rallied on the road in game two, beating the T-Bolts 6-3 to even the series and set up a winner-take-all game three at Shirley Povich Field. The Big Train got off to a shaky start, giving up three runs in the first inning. Attempting to limit the damage, Bethesda made a change at the mound, bringing in Ryan Okuda (Virginia Tech). Okuda stepped up to the task, allowing only one additional run across six innings. While Okuda delivered an impressive outing to keep his team in the game, the Big Train offense struggled to get going, remaining scoreless through six frames.  

The Big Train turned to reliever Greer Holston (Ole Miss), who held the T-Bolts scoreless through the seventh and eighth innings. While Holston kept the Silver Spring offense at bay, the Big Train bats were running out of time to mount their comeback. Momentum finally began to build for Bethesda when two runners got aboard in the bottom of the eighth inning, setting the stage for Matt Thomas (William & Mary). He came up huge, cracking a three-run homer – his first of the summer – over the scoreboard in left-center. 

“What our offense was missing that day was one big spark, we had a couple base runners here and there but nothing that was really gonna change the momentum of the game... [the pitcher] left it right over the plate and I didn’t try to do too much, I just took a good swing and it ended up going over the fence,” noted Thomas. 

The home run completely changed the momentum of the game, electrifying Big Train fans and giving the players the confidence they needed. With two outs and a runner on in the eighth, the T-Bolts pitcher walked two Big Train batters, bringing Gio Diaz (St. Mary’s CA) to the plate with the bases loaded. Every eye in Povich Field was locked on Diaz, and he did not disappoint, lining a single up the middle to score two runners giving Bethesda the lead for the first time in the game.

Christian Jayne (East Carolina) doubled to drive in another, giving his team a 6-4 lead heading into the ninth inning. Big Train manager Sal Colangelo turned to closer Chase Lee (Alabama) to seal the deal. The sidewinding right-hander delivered, and the Big Train’s thrilling comeback was complete as the team won its fourth consecutive Cal Ripken League championship.

 

#3 – June 4, 1999: Big Train 7, Arlington Senators 2
Big Train wins first game in team history

When the Bethesda Big Train began its journey as a new-born franchise, it needed to start off on the right foot to set the tone for years to come. The result of its first game would foreshadow the winning mentality that the Big Train carries to this day. 

An early June 1999 matchup saw the work of team founder Bruce Adams and many others come to fruition. Bethesda joined the Clark Griffith Collegiate Baseball League, where it would debut its team and Shirley Povich Field. 

Its first opponent would be the Arlington Senators, who were the reigning Clark Griffith League champions and three-time AAABA champions. It would be a tough task for the Big Train, but a good measuring stick to see where the team stood as it began its early stages of development. 

“June 4, 1999, was just such an exciting day,” Adams said. “We had worked for two years. We created the Bethesda Community Baseball Club. We had gotten permission to put a team — the Bethesda Big Train — into the Clark Griffith League … Everything was so perfect.”

For Sal Colangelo, now the Big Train’s manager, the opportunity to be on the team’s initial coaching staff came by chance. While walking around the Westfield Montgomery mall, near Povich Field, he ran into soon-to-be manager Derek Hacopian. After a brief conversation where Hacopian discussed a new baseball team being formed, he offered Colangelo the opportunity to coach. He’d take the offer, and after ingraining himself in the organization and sharing the same goals for the franchise as Adams, Colangelo would become a cornerstone in Bethesda’s operation. 

What was important for the Big Train starting successfully was forming a team that would compete from the start. One player that sought the opportunity of being a part of the inaugural squad was Matt Swope (Maryland), whose interest rose at the thought of remaining in his home state for the summer. 

“I was just interested in kind of, at least at that point, in staying at home,” Swope said. “I love the area. My parents actually just moved 10 minutes from the field … I just thought it was a great opportunity, and one of my best friends on the team who was actually a really good player was Chuck Easter … We were absolutely loaded on that team.”

Swope said the rivalry with the Senators began with that first game, and it was an immediate battle from the first pitch. In front of a packed Shirley Povich Field, the Bethesda community came in support to see its new team make a name for itself in commanding fashion. 

“That night, it was a sell-out crowd. In fact, it was a standing-room only crowd that whole season,” Big Train fan and volunteer John Daniel said. “There was so much excitement about having a summer team right there in Bethesda. There were plenty of games where we were sold out.”

The game began with temperatures in the mid-80s, but the Bethesda bats came out just as hot. Hacopian’s team plated five runs in the bottom of the first, immediately stunning one of the best teams in the country. The Senators pulled its starting pitcher after two outs, showing how much pressure the Big Train put on the star-studded team from northern Virginia. 

Pitching wasn’t an issue for the Big Train as Kyle Sparkman (Middle Tennessee State) tossed eight innings and gave up just two runs. In the late innings, Bethesda increased its lead to 7-2, which would finish as the final score, and the first victory in Big Train history. 

The win let fans and players know that the Big Train were serious contenders, but the impressive debut would also prove to be a glimpse for the future of the franchise. Since then, Bethesda has earned 11 regular season championships, nine league championships and one national championship. 

The night was special. It was the beginning of Bethesda’s home team — one that the community could rally around and support. It was an aura that was felt by those present at Shirley Povich Field that night, and it hasn’t gone away since then. 

“I was just playing catch in front of the dugout and there were over 1,000 people there, I think that in itself made me feel special and some type of way when I was 18 years old,” Swope, who is now an assistant coach at Maryland, said. “I did realize in that moment how special it was. The fanfare and just the community aspect was something I probably will never forget.”

 

#4 – July 13, 2017: Big Train 6, Alexandria Aces 5
15th inning rally sets up Outman's heroics

The fourth greatest game in Bethesda Big Train history saw the Big Train take on the Alexandria Aces in a high stakes late-season contest. The Aces entered the game with a one-game lead over the Big Train in the Cal Ripken League South Division with five games to go in the regular season.

The Aces had strung together a surprisingly dominant season up to that point in a league which in previous years had been a two-horse race between Big Train and rival Baltimore Redbirds. However, in this mid-July, extra-innings battle, the Aces sought to expand their division lead as the season quickly approached its culmination.

 

“I still remember the implications of this game,” former Big Train broadcaster Max Wolpoff said. “Alexandria came in a game ahead of the Big Train in the division, and if the Big Train lost this game, then that would have set up next week’s game in Alexandria as a potential south division heavyweight matchup of teams that were so close in record and they would’ve been tied in head-to-head. Big Train had to win this game.”

 

The Big Train immediately jumped on Aces starter Matthew Brooks in the first inning with a three-spot thanks to RBIs from Kevin Milam (St. Mary’s CA) and Luke Heyer (Kentucky). Heyer struggled early in his time with Big Train, but eventually became one of the Cal Ripken League’s hottest hitters down the stretch.

 

“(Luke) had started slow, and that just goes to show it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish,” Big Train manager Sal Colangelo said.

 

The Aces didn’t allow Big Train to settle into a three-run advantage for long, scoring a run in the second and two more in the third off Blake Sanderson (Florida Atlantic) to tie the game at three. Bethesda then jumped right back in front after an RBI hit by Vinny Esposito (Sacramento State) in the fourth. The Big Train made a call to the bullpen, after Sanderson threw five innings allowing five hits and three runs. 

 

The Aces plated a run in the seventh to tie the game off Stephen Schoch (UMBC), who came into the game with runners on base. Schoch shut down the next two innings, and with neither team scoring, the game headed to extras.

 

The Big Train threatened in extras numerous times, but couldn't convert. Meanwhile, Nash Eppard (Bryant) put up zero after zero on the mound for Bethesda, until the Mack Nathanson's no-doubt homer in the top of the 15th seemingly put the dagger in Bethesda's hopes. However, the Big Train, with one final shot in the bottom half of the 15th, kept the line moving off a fatigued Aces reliever, Jacob Parker. 

 

Esposito swung and missed at what seemed to be the final strike in the game, but the ball got away, allowing him to reach first. The next hitter followed by a base hit and Bethesda was in business. Things got out of control for the Aces reliever, as he walked Fox Semones (James Madison) and Logan Driscoll (George Mason)consecutively on eight pitches to force in the tying run, bringing James Outman (Sacramento State) to the plate to be a potential hero. Outman swung at the first pitch, sending a shallow fly ball into left-center.

 

“The ball was up in the air for a while, and while it’s in the air everything is going in slow motion,” then-Big Train Volunteer Coordinator Chris Rogers said. 

 

At first glance, Rogers said, it seemed as if the left fielder made a spectacular diving catch to end the inning. However, Jancarski crossed home and the ball was lying on the ground in left-center.

 

“Outman was in slow motion running to first, Jancarski was in slow motion coming home, and the fans are slowly turning their heads toward left field to see what happens with the ball, and then when it falls, the crowd just erupted,” Rogers said.

 

The Big Train won 6-5 in a 15-inning thriller, taking one of the most important games of the 2017 season. The win began an undefeated stretch to close out the season, and they rode this momentum into the playoffs, ultimately capturing a second straight league title. 

 

#5 – July 31, 2016: Big Train 4, Baltimore Redbirds 3
Strotman's three-inning save clinches first Big Train championship since 2011

The fifth greatest game in Bethesda Big Train history pitted the Big Train against longtime rival, the Baltimore Redbirds, in a game three, winner-take-all battle for the 2016 Cal Ripken League Championship. The Big Train was eager to capture the title, as the team had not done so since 2011, losing to the Redbirds in four straight championship series. 

“The Redbirds had won the championship so many years in a row and we wanted to reverse that,” former Big Train General Manager David Schneider said. “So that was the goal going into the year: win a championship.”

The series had been played in dramatic fashion leading up to game three. The Big Train edged out the Redbirds in the first game of the series, at home on Friday night, so the series shifted to Baltimore for the final two games with Bethesda holding a 1-0 advantage. Rain would delay the second game in Baltimore halfway through, leaving the teams to pick up the game Sunday. The delay put a halt in the Big Train’s rally, and the Redbirds were able to pick up the win, evening the series and setting up a decisive game three later that afternoon. 

As the visiting team, the Big Train would have their work cut out for them, having lost all three previous games played at the Redbirds’ field, Calvert Hall, including game two just hours before. 

Baltimore took the lead in the first after Big Train starter Johnny York (St. Mary's CA) surrendered a double that came around to score. They held that 1-0 lead until the fourth inning when Clayton Daniel (Jacksonville State) started a Bethesda rally. Daniel advanced to first after being hit by a pitch, bringing Vinny Esposito (Sacramento State) to the plate. 

“[Esposito] had one of the most phenomenal hitting streaks that I’ve seen at any level, he was hitting the ball out of the park constantly. It seemed like every time he came up to bat there was a chance he was going to put one over the fence” noted former Big Train broadcaster Kyle Brown.

Esposito stepped up big, hitting a double off the center field wall, sending Daniel to third. Cody Brown (Mississippi State) continued the charge with a single, plating both Daniel and Esposito and giving the Big Train their first lead of the game. The rally continued for the Big Train, as catcher Austin Hale (Stetson) hit a bases-loaded, two-out, two-run single to give Big Train a 4-1 lead. 

York pitched six innings allowing only two runs, and turned the ball over to right-hander Drew Strotman (St. Mary’s CA) with a 4-2 lead. 

Strotman surrendered a home run in the eighth, bringing the score to 4-3, but avoided further trouble. He went back out for the ninth, with all eyes on him, as he needed just three outs to capture the championship. The tying run reached second, but manager Sal Colangelo stuck with Strotman and he delivered, striking out the final two batters of the game to seal the victory for the Big Train. 

“At the time I was very slider heavy with my best pitch, so that was always going to be working. I probably gave the homerun up on a fastball, and then when it came down to a pressure situation at the end of the game I would lean heavily on the slider. I remember specifically the last batter of the game was just pretty much all sliders” noted Strotman. 

The Big Train won the game 4-3 and had captured the elusive Cal Ripken Championship over the Redbirds. This would go on to be the first of four straight Cal Ripken League championships for the Big Train.

 

#6 – July 30, 2017: Big Train 4, Baltimore Redbirds 2
Morris, pitching staff guide Big Train to second straight league championship

Bethesda Big Train hosted the Baltimore Redbirds at Shirley Povich field for this winner-take-all game three of the Cal Ripken League Championship series. The rival juggernauts had battled for the league championship every year since 2009, so it was no surprise to see them face off again in 2017. The Big Train had been a force to reckon with all season long, finishing the regular season with a record of 31-9 on the backs of strong team chemistry and a lethal offense. 

“The team was fueled by offense, there were a lot of guys who could really hit the ball,” team writer Ben Portnoy recalled. “This was a team that swung the bat really well and really just outpaced their opponents.”

Tyler Smith (East Carolina) started the game on the mound for the Big Train and dominated, throwing five scoreless innings. 

The game was tied 0-0 until the bottom of the fourth when Justin Morris (Maryland) hit a bases-loaded double that plated all three runners to break the deadlock. The Big Train extended their lead to 4-0 later in the frame when Morris scored from third on an errant pickoff attempt. 

After a strong five innings from Smith, Ty Madrigal (St. Mary’s CA), the team’s best starter in the regular season, took the bump in relief. He pitched a scoreless sixth, and after letting up two runs in the seventh, he orchestrated a pick off play to finish the inning. This ended the Redbirds threat and kept Bethesda in the lead. 

Hanging on to a 4-2 advantage, manager Sal Colangelo handed the ball off to dominant closer Stephen Schoch (UMBC) in the eighth. Colangelo described Schoch, who had yet to give up a run that summer, as one of “the greatest arms as far as just getting it done... knowing [his] plan or approach on the mound.” 

Schoch tossed a scoreless eighth and headed into the ninth just three outs away from the championship. The Redbirds refused to go away quietly, putting two men on against him. But with two outs, Schoch induced a ground ball to the right side. First baseman Kevin Milam (St. Mary’s CA) fielded the ball and tossed it to Schoch covering the bag, clinching a victory – and a second straight Cal Ripken League title – for the Big Train. 

The team finished the season ranked 4th in the nation, their second-best ranking to date.

 

#7 – July 28, 2018: Big Train 9, Baltimore Redbirds 8
Burleson, Big Train rally to win LCS opener in come-from-behind fashion

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. 

 

#8 – July 10, 2009: Big Train 4, Youse's Maryland Orioles 3
Adkins walks it off in the 11th inning

The Big Train hosted Youse’s Maryland Orioles to a packed house for this battle between the top two Ripken League teams. 

The two teams had developed an ongoing rivalry: Bethesda took the Ripken League regular season title in 2005 and 2006 and the Orioles took it in 2007 and 2008. Their competition continued in 2009, with Big Train only two games ahead of the Orioles on July 10. 

The Orioles took flight early, going up 2-0 in the top of the first against Big Train starter Seth Hester (Southern Mississippi). Big Train responded quickly in the bottom of the inning to bring the score to 2-1, when Eli Boike (Michigan State) singled and then scored on an Oriole error. 

After a solo homerun in the third extended the Orioles’ lead, Jarrod Parks (Mississippi State) drove in Boike on a single to cut the deficit to 3-2. Parks came through again in the sixth inning, this time in the field, when he made the defensive play of the game, and possibly of the year, diving into left field with full extension to make a catch just inches off the ground.

“I had to get every bit of distance I could to make it to this ball,” noted Parks. The play energized the team and set the stage for a late rally. 

The Big Train finally evened the score in the bottom of the seventh on an double by Danny Stienstra (San Jose State) which scored Boike once again, in fitting fashion. Nolan Rudman (Ventura College) entered in the eighth to take over for Hester and went on to pitch four no-hit innings. 

With neither team’s pitchers caving, the game went to extra innings. 

Bethesda started the 11th inning with a Connor Bernatz (San Francisco) single. He advanced to second on a wild throw, and then to third on a sacrifice bunt. After two intentional walks, Luke Adkins (Mississippi State), the leading hitter in the Ripken League at the time, found himself up to bat with one out and bases loaded. He drove the ball over the right fielder's head and the crowd went wild as Bernatz crossed home with the winning run.

The 4-3 victory moved the Big Train three games clear of the Orioles, and they went on to win the regular season title. The team carried this momentum into the postseason, as they captured their first-ever outright Ripken League postseason championship. 

“2009 was the most memorable summer of my life. That team was so fun, and we were so close, such a tight knit bunch... We played with so much enthusiasm,” Parks said.   

 

#9 – July 30, 2004: Big Train 4, Herndon Braves 3
Late rally helps Big Train toward first Clark Griffith League title

The Herndon Braves met the Big Train at Shirley Povich Field for this late July game. The stakes were high as ever, as the Big Train entered the game tied with Herndon for the lead in the regular season standings. Winning the regular season title would be huge for Bethesda, as then-assistant coach Sal Colangelo put it: “We had come so close every year … we just felt this was our year.”

Casey Baron (Maryland) started the game on the mound for the Big Train, facing off against a strong Herndon offense. The game remained scoreless until the top of the third, when the Braves plated a run on a walk and two singles. An inning later, the Braves increased their lead to 3-0 on a solo homer and a bases-loaded walk.

After plating one in the fourth, Big Train brought the score to 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth when Jonnie Knoble (San Francisco) stepped up, as he had many times before for this team, doubling and then coming around to score. 

“The one thing in common from these important games in the era when we played is Jonnie’s in the middle of it somewhere, either on defense, baserunning or offensively,” noted teammate Greg Lemon (Salisbury).

Russell Durfee (Duke) then entered the game to relieve Baron. Colangelo stated that bringing in Durfee was an attempt to get the Herndon offense “off-balance”. This strategy proved effective as he allowed only one hit, three walks and no runs over 3 ⅔  innings. 

Still down 3-2, Bethesda’s moment to take the lead finally came in the bottom of the seventh inning. With one out, Andrew Smith (San Francisco) singled and stole second; he then advanced to third when the following batter grounded out. Then with two outs, Smith sped home on a wild pitch to tie the game. 

“To Andrew Smith there’s only one type of game, and that’s one that you try to win,” Lemon said. 

With the game tied 3-3 and two outs in the frame, the Braves turned to their lethal reliever, Dustin Pease. The left-hander, however, was no match for Big Train designated hitter Justin Martin (Florida Atlantic), who doubled off the right field fence, plating Trey Cuevas (Southern Mississippi) to put the Big Train up 4-3. 

Bethesda brought relief pitcher David Hayes (Florida Atlantic) to the mound to secure the win, with an assist from Knoble in center field. Knoble caught a deep fly and took a shot at the Braves’ runner tagging from second. His throw bounced perfectly to Smith at third, to end the inning and squash the threat. 

Hayes sealed the win for the Big Train in the bottom of the ninth, retiring Herndon in order to close the game. 

Following this exciting win, Bethesda moved one game up in the standings with only two games remaining in regular season play. The Big Train went on to come in first in the regular season standings, then topping it off by capturing the postseason championship for the first time in franchise history, in what would be their final season in the Clark Griffith League. It was a “breakout season” for Big Train, Colangelo noted, as it established them as a standout team in the nation. 

 

#10 – July 31, 2005: Big Train 7, Rockville Express 4
Extra-inning heroics bring Big Train closer to inaugural CRCBL title

As the inaugural season of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League came to a close, the Bethesda Big Train found themselves in the midst of teams vying for the 2005 regular season championship. Their path to obtaining the crown was simple: with three games remaining, the Big Train needed three wins. 

With each opponent wanting to play spoiler, the Big Train had no room for error. In the penultimate game of the regular season, the Rockville Express nearly put Bethesda’s title hopes to bed, but an extra-inning boost on July 31, 2005, inched the Big Train another game closer to the season championship. 

Just the day before, in the 14th greatest game in Big Train history, Jonnie Knoble’s (San Francisco) walk-off RBI in the bottom of the tenth inning lifted Bethesda to a 7-6 victory over the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts. The final three games weren’t going to be easy, and the T-Bolts proved just that. 

But as the Big Train battled the Express, one thing became clear: While not every team was challenging for the title, pride was on the line to take down one of the top dogs in the CRCBL’s first season. The intense rivalry present between the Express and Big Train added fuel to the fire in what would be an energetic ending. 

“Bethesda Big Train is the New York Yankees of summer baseball,” manager Sal Colangelo said on Thursday’s show. “Everybody wants to play in Bethesda, everybody wants to beat the Big Train, and [Rockville Express] took it to another level. It was exciting every time we played them.”

The Big Train came in at 23-15 and started trusted pitcher Derek Caldwell (Rider) against the Express, who sat at an even 19-19. After a scoreless first inning, Bethesda broke the deadlock in the top of the second when Bryan Thomas (Virginia Tech) scored following a throwing error. 

In the fourth, Big Train’s Ken Beamer (Findlay) and Greg Lemon (Salisbury) reached base after each hit singles, and a throwing error by the Rockville pitcher
allowed both to score, extending the Bethesda lead to 3-0. 

In the bottom frame of the inning, the Express cut the deficit to two, but Bethesda answered with another run of their own in the top of the seventh to make it 4-1. Going into the bottom of the eighth down three, Rockville needed a spark to continue its hopes of playing spoiler. With the bases loaded, Mike Murphy’s two-RBI single pulled the Express within one. The upset watch was alive and well. 

With runners on first and third, Big Train pitcher Brett Tidball (Maryland) picked off the runner at first, but a well-placed hit to left field brought home the tying run, notching the game at four apiece. 

Neither team could find the winning run in the ninth, sending the game to extras. Lemon opened the top of the tenth with a single — his fourth of the game — and then advanced to second via a rare Rhett Teller (Saint Leo) sacrifice bunt. After Andrew Smith (San Francisco) was intentionally walked, Thomas singled to juice the bases. 

“I was praying, because Rhett, I don’t think he’s ever bunted in his life,” Colangelo said. “We still laugh about that. Sometimes as a coach, you go with your gut. I just knew Rhett coming up, if he can get it down, we have a chance to get him over.”

Then, the Big Train started rolling. 

Nick Cleckler (Lipscomb) drove home Lemon and Drew Carson (Southern Mississippi) hit a sac fly to center to score Smith. Thomas made it 7-4 on a passed ball, showing the clutch gene and mental toughness of the Bethesda squad that did everything it needed to obtain the 2005 regular season crown. 

Big Train closer Wyatt Stewart (Richmond) gave up two singles in the bottom half of the 10th, but eventually earned his sixth save of the season. The win over Rockville meant the Big Train were one win away from the CRCBL season title, with only one game remaining in the regular season.

“We really had a true blue-collar, just work a day, group of guys, tremendous bullpen, and we had a good defense as well,” Lemon said. “We really had a great group, a fun group, and I’m glad to see that the sort of foundations we laid in ‘04 and ‘05 have been carried on now for 15 years.”

 

#11 – June 14, 2013: Big Train 7, Baltimore Redbirds 6

Big Train takes down rival Redbirds in seesaw affair

 

In a back-and-forth affair between the Big Train and Baltimore Redbirds at Povich Field, Bethesda found themselves down 6-5 in the top of the seventh inning. Bethesda tied the game in the bottom of the inning, as the Redbirds issued a bases loaded four-pitch walk to Kevin Tatum (Cornell).

 

The game went to extras backed by Bubba Derby’s (San Diego State) stellar late-inning pitching. In the bottom of the tenth, Josh Spano (High Point) drove in the game-winning run with a single to send the Big Train to a thrilling early-season victory over their rivals. Big Train held first place the rest of the season and was ranked as high as #7 in the nation that year. 

 

#12 – July 3, 2009 (Game 2): Big Train 2, Youse’s Maryland Orioles 0

Big Train pitching edges out Youse’s Orioles in battle of homegrown pitchers

 

Dominant pitching defined the day, as locals Hugh Adams (Florida Atlantic, St. John's College High School) of the Big Train and Kevin Brady (Clemson, Gaithersburg High School) of the Orioles squared off in the second game of a doubleheader. The Orioles had won the first game to pull within two games of the league lead. Both pitchers threw complete games in front of a standing room only crowd at Povich Field. The Big Train edged Youse's Orioles 2-0 as Adams pitched an impeccable game, striking out five batters and allowing only four Orioles baserunners.

 

Big Train was able to get on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning. After a walk and HBP, Big Train had players on first and second. Cody Freeman (Mississippi State) drove a single to left field, scoring the runner from second. In the sixth inning, Big Train added to its lead when Freeman plated a run with a sacrifice fly to left. Big Train went on to win the league by two games and rank #9 in the nation.

 

#13 – August 12, 2000: Big Train 4, Maryland Bombers 2
National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF) semifinals vs. Maryland Bombers

 

Playing on the national stage in their second season, the Big Train went up against the Maryland Bombers in the National Amateur Baseball College World Series semifinals in Dayton, Ohio. John Maine (UNC Charlotte) pitched a gem, tossing seven scoreless frames before getting pulled a couple batters into the eighth. His final line read seven innings pitched, five hits and just two runs allowed.  

 

David Colangelo (Marshall) collected four hits in the game. Patrick Boran (Princeton) doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning as part of a four-hit performance. Big Train added one more in the frame to win 4-2, and advance to the NABF finals in their second-ever season. The Big Train finished as NABF’s 2000 College World Series runner up, losing to the Ohio Warhawks in the championship game.  

#14 – July 30, 2005: Big Train 7, Thunderbolts 6
Extra-inning showdown moves Big Train into first place tie in race for Ripken League title

Bethesda hosted the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts with a standing-room only crowd in this late season battle. The two teams were back and forth all night, but it was Jonnie Knoble’s (San Francisco) 10th inning hit that edged out the Bolts for this Big Train win. 

 

Big Train led 2-0 until the top of the fourth, when the T-Bolts scored three runs on three hits. Bethesda then trailed the T-Bolts until the eighth, when a double by Brett Hoeflich (Southern Mississippi) plated Drew Carson (Southern Mississippi), sending the game to extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, Knoble stepped up with an RBI single, sending in the winning run. With only two games of league play left, this win was huge for Big Train, as it moved them into a tie for first place. 

 

#15 – June 12, 2001: Big Train 8, Reston Hawks 0

Hayhurst fans 18 Hawks in record-breaking performance

 

An eight-run inning would typically be the main highlight of a game, but not for the Big Train on June 12, 2001 against the Reston Hawks. Their eight-run sixth inning, which would be the only runs scored all game, was led by Mike Sweeney’s (Florida) two hits including an RBI double to score the first run of the game, opening up the floodgates as the Big Train plated seven more runs.

 

However, their sixth inning bombardment was overshadowed by starting pitcher Dirk Hayhurst’s (Kent State) record-setting performance, striking out 18 batters in a complete game gem, breaking the previous team single-game strikeout record of 14. Hayhurst allowed eight hits while not walking a single batter to lead the Big Train to a commanding 8-0 win at Shirley Povich Field. He still holds the team single-game strikeout record.

 

#16 – July 28, 2010: Big Train 3, Baltimore Redbirds 2

Big Train rallies to beat Redbirds in opening round of league playoffs

 

After falling behind 2-0 early, Big Train came back in the eighth inning to narrowly edge out the Redbirds 3-2. The Redbird’s pitcher had given Big Train trouble all night, until Danny Stienstra (San Jose State) started a rally, leading off with a single, then advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt. Stienstra scored the tying run on a single from Ryan Collins (Mississippi State). Big Train then loaded the bases on two walks and Nick Schneeberger (Tulane) drove in the go-ahead run.

 

Big Train closer Bryan Hamilton (UNC Charlotte) dominated the ninth inning, striking out three Redbird hitters to seal the win for Bethesda. Following this exciting win, Big Train went on to win the League Championship, beating the Redbirds once again in the final. 

 

Stephen Schoch (UMBC) pitches against the Baltimore Redbirds. Photo by Allison Druhan

#17 – June 14, 2017: Big Train 5, Baltimore Redbirds 4

Early season battle against Redbirds ends in gutsy Big Train win

 

Tied 4-4 after six innings against the rival Baltimore Redbirds at Povich Field, outfielder Matt Green (Saint Mary’s CA) stepped up to deliver a go-ahead RBI double in the bottom of the seventh to give the Big Train a one-run lead heading into the final two frames. 

 

However, the Redbirds responded in the following half-inning, loading the bases with three consecutive batters to put the Big Train in a bases loaded, no-out situation, and calling upon the bullpen to perform damage control in a one-run game. Relief pitcher Stephen Schoch’s (UMBC) mind was set: take it one batter at a time.

 

With nerves of steel, the Maryland native struck out the first batter on four pitches, and followed with another strikeout for the crucial second out of the inning. Then, Baltimore’s Austin McNicholas, who had homered earlier in the game, became the third consecutive Redbird to be rung up on strikes, stranding the bases loaded. The Big Train closed out the game, winning 5-4.

 

#18 – July 20, 2002: Big Train 4, Arlington Senators 3

Big Train defeats Arlington in pitcher’s duel

 

The Big Train and the Arlington Senators, the top two teams in the Griffith League, faced off before a packed crowd of 834 at Povich Field. Starting pitchers Matt Foster (Navy) of Bethesda and Risley St. Germain of Arlington controlled the game through the first eight innings. St. Germain held Bethesda to two runs, retiring 17 batters in a row; while Foster allowed no runs and only two hits. 

 

In the top of the ninth, Gus Hlebovy (Kent State) relieved Foster after Arlington brought the score to 2-1. Arlington ended the inning up 3-2 after an RBI groundout and a go-ahead RBI single. In the bottom of the ninth, Bethesda tied up the game after Casey Gilvin (Morehead State) ripped an RBI double over the first baseman’s head. With bases loaded and two outs, Big Train’s Nate Jaggers (Middle Tennessee State) clinched the win with a walk-off RBI single. 

 

#19 – June 23, 1999 (Game 2): Big Train 7, Arlington Senators 0

Little’s seven-inning no-hitter

 

Following a loss in game one of a mid-June doubleheader on the road against the Arlington Senators that cost them their status at the top of the league, Big Train’s starter Jeff Little (Vanderbilt) pitched a seven-inning no-hitter en route to a bounce-back win, propelling Bethesda to the top of the league in the team’s inaugural season. The back half of the split doubleheader would be their final time at the league’s summit in 1999.

 

#20 – July 27, 2001: Big Train 5, Silver Spring Takoma-Thunderbolts 0

Mark Galvin stands out pitching a near-perfect game

 

Mark Galvin’s (Kentucky) stellar performance atop the mound was the difference in this Big Train win. His outing was near-perfect, throwing a no-hitter and allowing only one walk. The batter who was given the free pass was doubled up in the next play. Big Train went on to win the game 5-0, besting the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts at Povich Field. 

 

#21 – July 20, 2006: Big Train 4, Rockville Express 3
Brian Dozier’s extra-inning heroics 

 

In a mid-July battle between the first place Big Train and second place Rockville Express, just one game out of the top spot, the Povich Field crowd saw a ten-inning battle end with a walk-off single by infielder Brian Dozier (Southern Mississippi). His late heroics snatched a pivotal game in the race for first in the Cal Ripken League. Dozier went 3-for-4 with a walk and that crucial RBI, as the Big Train won 4-3 in a critical game in the final stretch of the season as the team subsequently pulled away to win the regular season title by three games.

 

#22 – June 9, 2000: Big Train 8, Arlington Senators 7

Big Train scores six in bottom of the ninth in comeback win

 

Big Train hosted the Arlington Senators in this exciting battle for the lead of the Griffith League. Big Train went into the bottom of the ninth down 7-2. The home team gave the crowd at Povich Field a thrilling ninth inning, scoring six runs to come back and defeat the Senators 8-7. This win lit a fire for Big Train, and they proceeded to rattle off eight straight wins. 

 

#23 – June 26, 2003: Big Train 7, Herndon Braves 6

Marcus Taylor’s three home runs stand out in Big Train win

 

In a dominating performance at the plate, Marcus Taylor (Middle Tennessee State) hit three home runs in an extra-inning Big Train win on the road in Herndon – the only time in Big Train history that a player has achieved such a feat.

 

Taylor’s first of the game came in the second inning as he put Big Train ahead 2-0, crushing a fastball over the right field fence. Then in the fourth inning, Taylor hit a solo home run over the right field fence. However, the Braves caught the Big Train, sending the game to extra innings at 6-6. In the top of the 11th inning, in fitting fashion, Taylor stepped up once more and delivered the go-ahead home run that clinched the Big Train win. The only other Griffith League player in the wooden bat era to hit three home runs in a game was Mark Teixeira, a future major leaguer.

 

#24 – June 6, 2004: Big Train 5, Reston Hawks 4

Cleckler’s eleventh-inning RBI seals opening day win over Reston

 

Opening Day of the 2004 season at Povich Field saw Bethesda and the Reston Hawks give Big Train fans a treat with an extra-inning thriller. The game quickly fell in the Big Train’s favor, jumping on the Hawks’ starting pitcher Brian McCullough for four runs in the first three innings while shutting them down at the plate behind Big Train starter Chris Rhoades’ (Towson) 4-hit shutout through seven innings.

 

However, the bullpen couldn’t hold down the 4-0 lead as Reston’s four-run eighth inning tied the game. The game went to extras and, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eleventh inning, Nick Cleckler (Lipscomb) played hero for the Big Train with a walk-off infield hit to score Trey Cuevas (Southern Mississippi), icing the team’s first win of the 2004 season in dramatic fashion. The victory proved to be especially meaningful later in the summer, as Big Train went on to win the 2004 regular season by one game. 

 

#25 – July 31, 2001: Big Train 7, Germantown Black Rox 3

Big Train rally late to beat Black Rox in ‘01 season finale

 

The Big Train, once seven games under .500 after 29 games in the 2001 season, won nine out of their final 11 games. This streak was capped off by a thrilling win in the regular season finale against the Germantown Black Rox, preventing what would have been the Big Train’s only losing season in program history.

 

The Black Rox were rolling off Matt Scheuing’s one-hitter through five innings, cruising to a 2-0 lead. Jim Burt’s (Miami) sixth-inning grand slam proved to be the difference for the Big Train. Even after the Black Rox added a run in the following half inning, the Big Train never looked back, adding two more runs in the seventh and one in the ninth, closing out a 7-3 victory away from home.

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