The Bethesda Big Train sought to finish out the regular season on a high note. After a complete collapse at home against the Alexandria Aces on Thursday, in what was arguably their worst outing of the season, Friday night in the nation's capital turned out to be one of their best.
From offense to defense, including terrific pitching from Brandon Clarke (Alabama), the Big Train earned a well deserved 4-3 win over the D.C. Grays in a seven inning affair. It may have been a full team effort, but the Big Train coaching staff knew it was about pitching and that started with Clarke.
“[Clarke’s] command has really come a long way,” manager Sal Colangelo said. “He pitched to contact and was knocking bats out of guy's hands. He wasn't trying to overthrow and trying to strike everybody out.”
This was Clarke's eighth start of the season and it was by far his most complete effort. Clarke threw 5.2 innings and only allowed a run, two hits and three walks along with five strikeouts. However, it was his secondary pitches that stole the show.
“His breaking ball was ridiculous,” Colangelo said. “He was throwing multiple counts and had a lot of confidence with it and it really set the tone of the game.”
The Big Train served as the home team because of the rainout on July 18 at Shirley Povich Field. The game was rescheduled to Friday at D.C. to ensure each team played their full complement of games.
After the Grays left two runners on in the top of the first, the Big Train converted early. After singling to start off the bottom half, and reaching second on an error and third on a fielder’s choice, Luke Nowak (ECU) scored on a passed ball to open the scoring. Then, Emilien Pitre (Kentucky) scored on a Sean Lane (Maryland) RBI single to make it 2-0.
The mistakes piled up for the Grays in the inning. With two outs and Lane in scoring position, TJ Rogers (Austin Peay) singled to move him to third and both runners earned an extra base on a wild pitch, allowing Lane to score to make it 3-0 Bethesda.
After the early fireworks, the action was quiet on a hot Friday night at Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy until the fourth inning. Lane was just as hot as the temperature as he blasted a lead-off solo shot to left center to make it a 4-0 Big Train lead. Lane finished the game 2 for 2 with two runs and two RBIs. The team knows he's been heating up of late, which is great news for the Big Train as the playoffs approach.
“Sean has swung the bat very well these last two weeks,” Colangelo said. “He made a huge adjustment with standing back and not getting fooled on offspeed [pitches]. It's all paying off now and he's doing it at the right time.”
Clarke continued to work his magic after Lane's homer, adding another strikeout in the top of the fifth. He even added a new pitch to his arsenal.
“Everything was working for me. I threw really good changeups and had a few wipeout sliders, which has been a new pitch for me this summer,” Clarke said. “I was happy to work that in and then the curveball was working really well.”
But things started to get a little dicey in the sixth. After two quick outs, Clarke walked Grays center fielder Sam Blancato, who had homered twice against the Big Train in their last visit to DC. At the end of his rope, Clarke was removed and Luke Baker (Dayton) came on in relief. Baker’s night did not start out as planned. A single from Max Harper advanced Blancato to third with two outs and a four-run lead turned into a one-run game in a split second when Dane Camphausen blasted a three-run homer to right center making it 4-3.
Fortunately for Bethesda, the Big Train locked the Grays down after Camphausen's blast. Baker got out of the inning with no additional damage. In the top of the seventh, Todd Mozoki (James Madison) struck out his first batter and walked Jarret Jenkins. The Big Train converted a clutch 4-6-3 double play to end the game and Mozoki was awarded the save.
The Big Train will receive a first-round bye and await their opponent for the semifinals. The Aces will ultimately decide Bethesda’s seeding. Currently, the Big Train sit atop the Cal Ripken League standings, but Alexandria is only one game behind.
The Aces have won five straight and have one game in hand on the Big Train after defeating the Metro SOCO Braves on Friday night. If the Aces win Saturday's game against the Giants, they would clinch first place and the regular season title.
However, the standings don’t mean anything to this talented group from Bethesda. If they play the way they did against D.C. on Friday, they will go on a deep run next week in search of their sixth straight championship when the playoffs begin.
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