Trailing by a single run in the bottom of the ninth, the Bethesda Big Train needed some magic on opening night of the 2022 Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League season. And with the 512 fans in attendance at Shirley Povich Field in full voice, the 2021 champions won via walk-off against the visiting Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts, winning 3-2 Tuesday night.
With Bethesda holding a narrow one-run lead in the top of the ninth, the Thunderbolts sent two players home on Todd Mozoki (James Madison). Mozoki, who looked comfortable through the seventh and eighth, put away six straight batters before loading the bases in the ninth and giving up two runs.
The Big Train struggled to string together offense all night long but showed why you need 27 outs to go home.
“We got a lot of guys on base,” said Sam Bender, the team’s hitting coach, who led the dugout in the absence of manager Sal Colangelo. “We were just missing that one big hit tonight, and that’ll come. These guys showed some resolve tonight and very happy to see that.”
With Silver Spring-Takoma needing three outs to ice the affair, Trey Winget (St. Mary’s(CA)) started the comeback with a leadoff double. Sean Lane (Maryland), who came in as a pinch hitter, lobbed a shot to deep left, and what looked like a routine out turned into an error, and Lane advanced to second while Winget moved to third.
After Jason Schiavone (James Madison) popped up to third, the Thunderbolts gave Garrett Felix (Nicholls State) a free pass to load the bases and give themselves a double-play opportunity. Emilien Pitre (Kentucky) then launched a sacrifice fly to left to even things up and pick up his second RBI of the night. And with the score tied and men on second and third, Peyton Schulze (Long Beach State) cracked a walk-off single just inside the left-field line to send the home faithful into a frenzy.
“We were fighting all game,” Schulze said. “We had good at-bats, but we just weren’t getting the big hit. We kept getting runners on and just going nowhere. And finally, just put it together today in the ninth inning.”
Schulze, who is coming off a productive season at Long Beach where he batted .270 in 36 games, had three hits Tuesday evening.
“I’m just here to get at-bats and keep doing what I’m doing,” Schulze said. “I had a good freshman year, so just got to keep advancing.”
An exciting end to the match overshadowed the pitching from both sides. It took the Big Train 104 pitches to solve the riddle that was Thunderbolts pitcher Evan Rishell. Rishell worked 6.2 scoreless innings with six strikeouts while mixing off-speed pitches with high heat to carve through the Big Train lineup before getting hooked after giving up the game’s first run in the seventh.
And while Silver Spring-Takoma left Rishell on the mound for most of the night, Bethesda used a pitcher-by-committee to get the win.
“Our pitchers did a heck of a job throwing strike one tonight, getting ahead and working ahead,” Bender said, “and it showed throughout the whole night.”
Brayden Jones (Ole Miss) got the starting nod, and after battling command issues early, the Madison, Mississippi, native finished with five strikeouts, two walks and one hit through three with no earned runs.
Jordan Little (East Carolina) followed Jones and took care of the Thunderbolts in the middle frames; of his nine outs, Little punched out eight batters and gave up just three hits.
Even though Bethesda was missing several players — the College World Series runs through late June — the players opened the season in style.
“Just to not let the moment be too big, you know, a lot of opening day jitters,” Bender said on what he told his players before the game. “[I told them] to stay within yourselves because that’ll be good enough to get the w.”
And on Community Heroes Night, a rainy evening in Bethesda did little to deter the home fans.
“The people out here are great,” Schulze said. “We have good crowds in California, but these guys are something different.”
The Big Train head to Vienna, Virginia, on Wednesday to face the Metro SOCO Braves, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.
Game Notes: Two time All Star and former Washington National Gio Gonzalez, attending the game with his son’s youth team, spoke with both teams before the game…Each fan received an Opening Night "Together Again!" Big Train t-shirt presented by our game night sponsor Community Radiology Associates...The 8U Kidball Cardinals enjoyed a pre-game picnic and were introduced and ran out on the field with the Big Train players for the National Anthem performed by the Capital Accord Chorus…Montgomery County Council President Gabe Albornoz presented certificates of appreciation to the funders of the Big Train Community Heroes of the Night program — Jim and Carol Trawick Foundation, Sebrechts Family and Luc Sebrechts/Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, and Melanie Fostad/RBC Wealth Management. Each Community Heroes of the Night nonprofit organization gets 25 free tickets, meals, and drinks…Tonight’s Community Heroes of the Night were from Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN), an organization empowering kids with disabilities (www.keengreaterdc.org)…To kick off this season’s Community Heroes program, representatives of each Community Heroes organization this summer held a pre-game picnic to express their appreciation to the funders…Big Train founder Bruce Adams presented Carol Trawick of the Trawick Foundation with an individual Community Hero award for her decades of leadership supporting Montgomery County’s social services and arts organizations…The Big Train raffle raised $194 to support the Big Train’s community service initiatives…Attendance was 512.
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