Big Train edge past Braves in nailbiter

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, Emilien Pitre (Kentucky) rounded second base with two outs in a 6-6 ballgame. Peyton Schulze (Long Beach State) had hit a towering, shallow fly ball that looked like it would give the Metro SOCO Braves trouble. 

With the outfield playing deep, Braves' left fielder Keegan Garis (Indiana State) came sliding in attempting to make the catch. But the ball went into his glove and popped back out. Hustling from the start, Pitre had already rounded third base by the time the ball hit the ground and eventually slid into home plate to give the Bethesda Big Train a 7-6 lead, a lead that would stand up. Pitre's run proved decisive as the Big Train (5-1) rebounded from Sunday's loss to outlast the Braves (2-4) 7-6 Tuesday night.

“I didn’t know it was dropping,” Pitre said. “I just started running and you don’t stop until the inning is over. Just keep going.” 


With a one-run lead entering the ninth inning, Andrew Johnson (Maryland) took the mound with hopes of locking down the win after throwing a sparkling eighth inning.


However, after striking out the first two batters in the ninth, Johnson ran into some trouble. He walked the next two batters to put the go-ahead run on base. Pitching coach Craig Lopez walked out to the mound to try and calm Johnson down before a decisive at-bat. 


“He basically just tells you to smile, have fun and don’t let the pressure get you,” Johnson said. “A lot of times I was falling off trying to do too much, so I just let my body do the work and finish the inning.”


The southpaw did just that, getting a pop-up to shortstop Colton Hegwood (Louisiana Tech) to lock up the Big Train’s fifth win of the season. 


The Big Train got off to a hot start early, scoring two runs in the first inning and adding two more in the third inning. A passed ball and fielder's choice brought two runners home in the first while a walk and fielder's choice extended the Bethesda lead to 4-0.


However, the Braves responded quickly in the top of the fourth inning scoring five runs on four hits. Connor Ball (Alabama) started on the mound for the Big Train and pitched three scoreless innings before running into trouble. 


Ball was able to get through 3.1 innings, giving up four earned runs and striking out four. Colby Frieda (Kentucky) came out of the bullpen to replace Ball, but struggled to find the strike zone at first. Frieda walked three batters and gave up a two-run single. When the fourth inning finally came to an end, the Big Train trailed 5–4. 


Despite a rough fourth, Frieda would come back out to the mound for the fifth and sixth inning, where he knotted five strikeouts. 


A Jason Schiavone (James Madison) sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth tied the game at five and a RBI fielder’s choice from Sean Lane (Maryland) gave the Big Train the lead in the sixth.


But the Braves wouldn’t go away, tying the game back up in the seventh on a Big Train error. 


Then came the decisive eighth and Pitre's hustle play, which led to Bethesda reclaiming the lead and ultimately winning it. Despite scoring seven runs, the team was only able to get four hits on the night, with two coming from Pitre. 


“We’re just trying to gel right now,” head coach Sal Colangelo said. “Guys are trying to get used to the wood bat and make adjustments. I told the guys it’s not a sprint it’s a marathon. It’s a whole different game than swinging an aluminum bat. They executed the fundamentals and they pitched really well. Once we get the hitting clicking we’ll win a lot of games.” 


The win tonight was the Big Train’s fourth one-run win of the early season. Through six games, the team has managed to sneak past their opponents with the help of solid pitching or late-inning fireworks. 


“We just grind,” Pitre said. “You know, it’s late games you just got to grind it out. It shows that we care. Even though it may not look like it, we care about winning.” 


Next, the team hits the road to take on the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts Wednesday at 7 p.m.


Game Notes: ESPN's Tim Kurkjian was our special guest on Tuesday night. It was an emotional moment at Povich Field when Tim threw his ceremonial first pitch to his older brother Matt, who was recently diagnosed with ALS. Matt Kurkjian was a standout baseball player for Catholic University in the 1970s. The three Kurkjian brothers spent much of their youth at what is now POvich Field. Here is Tim's recent essay on his brother Matt: The Pride of the Kurkjians: This Lou Gehrig Day, my brother -- and best friend -- is facing ALS... Before tossing the ceremonial first pitch to his brother, Tim spoke with the Big Train's Tim Kurkjian Sports Journalism Fellows and other Big Train interns and then met with players from both teams... Tim will join Shirley Povich in receiving the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) Career Excellence Award at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY on July 23. He will be inducted into the Montgomery County Sports Hall of Fame on December 4... Thanks to Ben Chernow of Seniors Helping Seniors for sponsoring the game and providing 500 seat cushions as our nightly giveaway. Check them out at www.shsbethesda.com... Our Community Heroes of the Night were from the Treatment and Learning Centers (TLC) (www.ttlc.org) and Bradley Hills Village (www.bhv.clubexpress.com)... Thanks to the group of sixty from Au Pairs in America for attending tonight's game. Taking advice, we assume, from Jacques Barzun who famously wrote: "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game - and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams."... Attendance was 449.


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