Rockville, MD – The Big Train narrowly fell to the Cropdusters, 5-3, in game two of the League Championship Series semifinals. The result means the teams will play Tuesday in a do-or-die game 3. Unlike Sunday’s extra-innings pitcher’s duel, back-and-forth offense headlined this game, which featured three lead changes.
In a unique turn of events, last minute field complications in Olney forced game two to be held at Shirley Povich Field, with the Cropdusters acting as the home team in the Big Train’s park. This undoubtedly influenced the vibe of the playoff matchup, although Dixon Williams (East Carolina) described how the Bethesda players did not let the unconventional setting affect their focus. “I think it's just kind of the same thing [as always],” said Williams. “Really just getting to the field ready to play.”
The Big Train wasted no time getting on the board. As the leadoff batter, Williams smacked a double on the second pitch of the game before subsequently touching home thanks to Dean Toigo’s (Oregon) double off the center field wall. Toigo stole third to threaten further, but after taking a walk, Jeffery Heard’s (Sacramento State) attempt at swiping second was cut off by the Cropdusters defense, keeping Bethesda’s lead at 1-0 heading into the bottom of the first.
Ryan Ertlschweiger (James Madison) got the start for the Big Train, but he struggled to find the strike zone early, resulting in a Jack Cannizzarro bases-loaded walk that plated Brayden Martin. The Cropdusters’ next batter Anthony Swenda slapped a sacrifice fly to Heard in right that scored Will Baumhofer. With runners still in scoring position, Jimmy Kirk dribbled a grounder to Connor Rasmussen (Tulane) who completed the throw to Toigo at first for the third out, holding the Cropdusters to a 2-1 advantage.
The Cropdusters’ starter Josh Beck dealt with control issues of his own in the first few innings, as he allowed four walks and two hits. After Beck loaded the bases in the third, Jacob Orr (Maryland) lifted a high sacrifice fly to score Dixon Williams, bringing the Big Train back even at two apiece.
Ertlschweiger held the Cropdusters scoreless in the second and the third, a good recovery from the first frame. But the righty quickly put two runners on in the fourth, forcing the Big Train to bring in Darin Kuskie (South Carolina - Upstate). Kuskie allowed a single and quickly faced a bases-loaded, no outs jam. He got a third of the way to getting out of the inning when Williams dove to his right towards the third-base bag to snag a ground ball and threw home from one knee to get the force. A Will Baumhofer single drove in a run, but Matt Miura, the league’s leading hitter, grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat and limit the damage.
Williams delivered for the Big Train on both sides of the ball, blasting a solo shot to right off of Brandon Rhodes to tie the game back up in the top of the fifth. Yet the Cropdusters’ Jimmy Kirk hit a sacrifice fly to retake the lead in the bottom of the stanza, 4-3.
Both Kuskie and the Cropdusters’ reliever Rece Ritchey made quick work of the offenses in the sixth and top of the seventh, with Ritchey retiring all six batters he faced.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Cropdusters’ Kirk utilized the long ball as well, launching a two-out solo home run to put his team up 5-3. Jack Robinson (Roanoke College) relieved Kuskie afterwards, forcing a third out grounder on his first pitch.
Heard walked and Schiavone dropped a hit in the shallow outfield with hopes of an eighth-inning rally, but the Big Train failed to find their groove and remained down 5-3. Robinson delivered a one-two-three bottom of the eighth, setting up an exciting ninth inning: a now-or-nothing final three outs of the Big Train.
Jack Guerrero (James Madison) came in to pinch hit and struck out looking. Then Casey Bishop (Towson) grounded a ball right to the second baseman for the second out. With their final out, Williams went down swinging, ending the game in the Cropdusters’ favor.
Williams finished the day 3-4 with three runs on two hits and a walk, a performance the infielder felt good about. But in the end, the result forces Williams and the team to look to Tuesday, where they hope to bounce back in order to advance to the next round. “Just really [need] more of a team effort, to come together as a team,” explained Williams. “We need to execute, and get the job done really. A win’s, a win: it doesn’t matter.
With the result, the Big Train will remain at Shirley Povich Field for game three of the LCS semifinals, setting up a win-or-go-home situation for both teams. This game is set to start at 7 p.m. The winner will face the Alexandria Aces in the League Championship Series.