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Big Train shut out Cropdusters in 3-0 win

By:Ian Decker
Merritt Beeker served up seven strikeouts in four innings, his longest appearance for the Big Train. (Photo courtesy of Anna Yuan)

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After working a six-pitch strikeout to end the top of the fifth, Bethesda Big Train pitcher Nicholas Del Prado (Florida Atlantic) walked off the mound to applause from the dugout and the fans at Shirley Povich Field as the Big Train held a 3-0 lead over the Cropdusters. It was a lead that would hold up. 

Thursday was Del Prado’s third start of the season, and the Florida native worked five scoreless innings with five strikeouts and one hit on 68 pitches. The night’s highlight came when Del Prado, who picked up his second win, needed just four pitches to get out of the second inning.

Merritt Beeker (East Carolina) came on in relief and continued to confound the visitors, striking out seven in four innings, his longest outing of the season. Beeker worked into a bases-loaded jam in the top of the ninth, but following a mound visit from pitching coach Craig Lopez, the final batter flew out to leftfielder DM Jefferson (Notre Dame) to end it.

“I just said that it was his game to finish,” Lopez said of Beeker. “You know, nobody wants to come out with three of their base runners on. He was just a little warm, four innings was [something] he hadn't gotten before tonight. I just told him to allow your body to do the work.”

Beeker got into trouble in the ninth but otherwise pitched well. His slider was working early, especially from the sixth to the eighth when he struck out six Cropdusters in a row. Beeker, who had a 2.07 ERA with East Carolina this past season in seven appearances, generates a tremendous amount of spin on his slider, which starts outside before bearing in on right-handed hitters' hands.

“That's it's my favorite pitch because it breaks late,” Beeker said of his slider. “All my pitches were working pretty good. I've been struggling with that a little bit while I've been up here, but it's good to be back and get a feel for all his pitches.”

Before the 7 p.m. game, the two sides completed a suspended match from June 17 in which the Cropdusters won, 15-14. But in game two, Bethesda’s pitching held the visitors scoreless for the first time this year. The season series between the league’s most decorated squad and its newest is 1-1, with one game's finish still pending, as it was also suspended.

Stellar defense also buoyed the Green and White’s pitching; it started with Emilien Pitre (Kentucky) in the fourth. The versatile infielder made a lunging grab in shallow right after tracking across from his position as the second baseman. 

An inning later, with runners on first and second, right fielder Garrett Felix (Nicholls State) charged in on a blooper, made a diving grab and caught Cropdusters left fielder Wes Gingerich, who had jumped the play and was struggling to get back to second.

“As a pitcher, if you know your defense, they're gonna be back there making plays, you have a lot more confidence,” Beeker said. “You trust that they're gonna make plays for you, and they did that tonight, so I'm very grateful for that.”

And to round out the defensive masterclass, Luke Nowak (East Carolina) fielded a single into center in the eighth and beamed a throw home, which caught Gingerich for a second time to preserve the shutout for the Big Train (15-4).

“A couple different times Emilien [Pitre] and Garrett [Felix] helped [Beeker] out a little bit and kind of got him out of bad situations that he just kind of got unlucky,” Nowak said. “Good defense will help you get out of jams.”

With Del Prado and Beeker working through the Cropdusters’ (9-9) order, the Big Train plated runs in the first and second of a low-scoring contest. Nowak opened the night with a single off of Cropdusters pitcher Joe Pucek, stole second and made it to third on a wild pitch. Pitre then hit into a fielder’s choice, which brought in Nowak.

Sean Lane (Maryland) then logged his 13th RBI of the season with a sacrifice fly to center, bringing Peyton Schulze (Long Beach State) home. Jason Schiavone (James Madison) then singled in Clay Wargo (Louisiana Lafayette) for a 3-0 lead.

“The pitching staff was great, pounding the zone,” Nowak said. “We just played really well as a team and kind of passing the baton on to the next guy. Everyone was doing their job with runners in scoring position.”

After Thursday's win, the Big Train head to Alexandria to take on the second-place Aces at 6:30 PM at Frank Mann Field on Friday night before returning home for two games over the weekend. 

Game Night Notes: Montgomery County Council Vice President Evan Glass, who has led the County’s celebrations of our LGBTQ+ community for the last four years, threw out a first pitch at Thursday night’s first Big Train Pride Night… All fans received a Pride hand fan and a brochure explaining the importance of Pride events and providing valuable resources for the LGBTQ+ community prepared by Whitman High School students Bronwyn McNulty and Natalie Lowy. Bronwyn, an Alexander DiMisa High School Leadership Fellow with the Big Train this summer, proposed the idea for the Big Train’s first Pride Night last winter. Bronwyn and Natalie organized the night, created the brochure, and decorated the ballpark in Pride colors. Bronwyn and Natalie threw out first pitches in the pre-game ceremony… Thanks to the Sanford and Doris Slavin Foundation for providing financial support of Pride Night… The Washington Mystics street team team provided entertainment and prizes before and during the game… Attendance was 467.

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