A single to right off the bat of Warren Holzemer (Virginia Tech) Monday night sent Garrett Felix (Nicholls State) sprinting towards third base. Felix’s speed plus the hit's depth had associate head coach Galvin Morris waving the Nicholls State junior home. Third-base coaches are gamblers. Sometimes you balance the risk-reward of a scenario and hold a runner at third. In a tie game in the bottom of the eighth, sending the runner was a gamble worth taking for Morris, as Felix slide in safely.
That run proved the difference in the Bethesda Big Train's 13-12 win against the Gaithersburg Giants at Shirley Povich Field in Game 1 of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League Championship Semifinals.
“[The pitch] was up and in, and I was more just reacting,” Holzemer said of the winning RBI. “My game plan going into the game was to be loose and just have my hands take care of it, and that's basically what happened; I got inside out of it.”
In front of almost 500 fans in the opening match of Bethesda’s 2022 playoffs, the Big Train used late heroics to take a 1-0 series lead. But the clock nearly struck midnight on this glass-slippered team when they struggled early.
To open the affair, Big Train (1-0) manager Sal Colangelo penciled in Ryan Sanders (Saint Mary’s), one of the team’s most dominant pitchers, as the starter with the goal of getting the Big Train off on the right foot in the playoffs. Heading into the evening, Sanders had surrendered just five runs through 27 innings with a strong 1.67 ERA. On paper, it was the right decision. Of course, the games aren't played on paper.
Working with an early two-run lead — Luke Nowak (East Carolina) and DM Jefferson (Notre Dame) scored in the bottom of the first — Sanders spun two scoreless innings before the Giants' (1-1) bats came alive in the third.
With Joseph Quelch on second and two out, Sanders faced Jeremiah Jenkins, one of Gaithersburg’s all-stars. In an instant, the Big Train's lead was gone as Sanders gave up a two-run home run to tie the score. Jenkins finished the game with three RBIs.
“Coach [Jesse Frawley] does a great job with them the way they stay in the game,” Colangelo said of his coaching counterpart. “We had made some bad pitches to get the ball off, but what I'm most proud about for our kids was how they battled.”
Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Sean Lane (Maryland) responded with a solo shot in the bottom half to put his side back up by one. Lane has been scorching hot of late at the plate. Over his last three games, Lane is 5-8 with two 2B and 2 homers. However, that lead wouldn't hold.
Despite his consistent regular season performance, Sanders struggled in the top of the fourth. He was charged with five runs in the inning, three of which came on a Joshua Wilson three-run homer to dead center.
Sanders has done some of his best work with a slight lead, but after myriad of standout performances this season, he fell flat at the wrong time and finished the day with seven earned runs over 3.1 innings.
Erik Ritchie (East Carolina), who entered in relief, gave up two more runs, one of which went to Sanders. By the end of the top of the fourth, the Big Train looked flat and trailed 8-3.
After scoring a run in the bottom of the fourth to respond to the Giants' 6-run inning, the Green and White pushed in three batters in the fifth courtesy of a bases-loaded walk and an error by Giants shortstop Dylan Wilkinson, whose throw to first on a grounder off the bat of Clay Wargo (Louisiana Lafayette) was low and misplayed Jenkins. The error allowed Felix and TJ Rogers (Austin Peay State) to score to narrow the deficit. That gave the team belief that the game wasn't over.
“It was a little back and forth the entire game,” Holzemer said. “I honestly thought we were gonna win; I didn’t think their pitching was good enough, so I knew we’d catch up during the game.”
However, an inning later, Merritt Beeker (East Carolina) gave up another run to make it 10-7 in favor of the Giants.
Trailing by three going into the seventh, the Big Train bullpen swapped the wooden station in left field for the dugout, altering the game's trajectory. The energy the reserve pitchers brought to the dugout clearly had an impact.
With the bases loaded in the seventh, Gaithersburg pitcher Caleb Guisewite walked home Lane before Felix and Rogers came in on Wargo's two-run single to left. Then with Trey Winget (Saint Mary’s) on second after pinch-running for Wargo, and Holzemer at third, Nowak scorched a single to right-center for runs four and five of the inning to put the home side up 12-10.
“It doesn't matter who I'm putting in the lineup,” Colangelo said. “I feel confident that we're gonna win. We're gonna get great effort, and we're gonna do better things.”
The celebrations were short-lived as Beeker gave up two runs in the top of the eighth to tie the game again. There would be no rest for the weary in this affair.
“We just got to work ahead on the mound more and then close the door,” Colangelo said of the team’s pitching approach.
Colangelo brought in Jordan Little (East Carolina) to relieve Beeker in the eighth, and while he allowed an inherited runner to score, he kept the damage to two runs. That set the stage for Holzemer to plate Felix for one of his team-high three RBIs, to give the Big Train the lead that would ultimately hold up.
“[Jordan Little] did an unbelievable job,” Colangelo said. “It was a great team win today.”
Little walked a batter and gave up two runs, which went to Beeker, but once the flame-throwing righty started working his fastball, the Giants struggled to produce. Little would close the game out with a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out his last two hitters. When the final out was made, Little let out a scream as the Big Train streamed out of the dugout to celebrate the win.
“I feel like I was kind of trying to do too much with the curveball tonight,” Little said. “So I decided to paint him with the fastball, and whenever I came in fastball, it obviously worked.”
The Big Train head to Gaithersburg on Tuesday needing just one more victory to advance to the league final, where they will either face the Alexandria Aces or the Metro SOCO Braves who saw their game one rained out. Regardless, the Big Train will use this comeback win as a stage-setter for the rest of the postseason.
“Honestly, I think that's just the game we needed,” Little said. “We needed a comeback game like this because we’re really hype after this game, and that's gonna translate tomorrow.”
Game Night Notes: Despite rain in the forecast, Big Train fans showed up to cheer on the squad for Game 1 of the Cal Ripken League Championship Series Semifinals on a rainless but humid Monday night at Shirley Povich Field... The Community Hero of the Night was the Parkinson's Foundation of the National Capital Area, which improves the quality of life of those impacted by Parkinson's Disease, their care partners and families, and fosters a sense of community to ensure no one battles this disease alone. Members of Dan Lewis' family threw out the first pitch and spread the word about the PFNCA's amazing work... The Cap City Little League 11U All-Stars, the DC State Champions, joined the Big Train and had a picnic before the game. Cooper Birgfeld threw out a first pitch and he and his teammates ran out onto the field with the Big Train players for the national anthem. Good luck in Connecticut at regionals!... Sport & Health, the exclusive fitness partner of the Big Train, was on hand to tell fans about all of the awesome fitness opportunities available at their Pike & Rose and Bethesda locations. Thanks to Sport & Health for giving the Big Train players a place to train all summer... Ezra Kramon celebrated his birthday with a picnic, threw out a first pitch, and then he and his friends ran out onto the field for the national anthem... Rebuilding Together Montgomery County joined the Big Train to discuss their work rebuilding homes for those in need and revitalizing communities. Visit their website for information on how to volunteer... Friend of the Big Train Glenda Fu of Dreams for Kids DC sang the national anthem... Attendance was 450.
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