Top Ten Thursdays: #1 – July 28, 2011 – Big Train 5, Southern Maryland Nationals 4

Top Ten Thursdays, a weekly 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. The countdown started with a look back at the 11th through 25th greatest games in team history.

Top Ten Thursdays 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.

Today we look at Game #1, from July 28, 2011 against the Southern Maryland Nationals.

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. 

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