Big Train Drop Exhibition to Martha’s Vineyard Sharks, 6-4

by Julianne Garnett

Oak Bluffs, MA – In a game that featured eight different Big Train pitchers, thick coastal fog, and a dancing shark, the Big Train ultimately fell 6-4 to the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks on Wednesday night. The exhibition contest, played at the Sharks’ fittingly named home, The Shark Tank, was Bethesda’s last stop on the organization’s 2023 New England trip. 


The game was a great opportunity for Big Train players and coaches alike to experiment, as it had no bearing on the team’s league record or stats. That experiment allowed Coach Sal Colangelo to opt for a rotating cast, which included 21 different Big Train players.


“I just wanted everyone to get an experience playing up here in Martha’s Vineyard,” said Coach Colangelo. “Trying to get every position player in with the free substitutions. You don’t want to come all the way here for an exhibition game and not play [a majority of the players].” 


The starting catcher—and finishing first baseman—Jason Schiavone (James Madison) highlighted the positive elements of an unconventional matchup like this one. “It's just different, and that's what makes baseball more fun,” said Schiavone. “You [can] play in different environments every day. And honestly, this was one of my more favorite environments to play in because everything is electric here…they have great fans.


Davion Hickson (Rice) started the game for the Green and White, not allowing any runs or hits in the first stanza. Brandon Clarke (State College of Florida) kept it scoreless in the second. 


After retiring two batters on two pitches to start the third, Bethesda’s next pitcher, Aden Ritenour (Shepherd University), gave up a solo home run to the Sharks’ Xavier Esquer, but a flyout to center field ended the inning to avoid a further early deficit. 


Unfortunately for Bethesda, Martha’s Vineyard matched the Big Train’s defense and then some, fielding and converting multiple ground balls into double plays to prevent early scoring. 


Aidan Kelley (Jacksonville University) made his Big Train debut in this game, taking over in the bottom of the fourth. Kelley’s appearance started out rocky, as the pitcher yielded a bloop base hit to the first batter, which quickly turned into a bases loaded jam and another two runs for the Sharks on a two-run single from Gio Colasante. But Kelley improved as the inning continued and, helped by Lucas Phelps’ (Florida Atlantic) heads-up play that caught a Sharks runner off of second as well as a commanding third strikeout by Kelley to escape the inning. 


As a thick fog rolled in across the outfield of the island stadium, Bethesda threatened with two runners on in the top of the fifth, but, the theme of the first half of the game continued and the team couldn’t convert. 


Max Martzolf (Florida Atlantic) took his turn on the bump in the bottom of the fifth, recording one punchout and keeping the game within three runs. 


The Sharks added two more runs in the sixth inning against Joe Bladel (Maryland), first with Caden Shapiro knocking in Generoso Romano and then Demitri Diamant slapping an RBI single. The new catcher Nick DeLisi (East Carolina) closed out the inning with an excellent throw that caught Diamant attempting to steal second. 


Down 5-0, the Big Train staged a seventh inning rally, scoring three runs to cut the deficit to two. DeLisi singled to right before Jack Guerrero (UNC Wilmington) bounced one near the right field line to put two runners on. Then Zeb Ruddell’s (Louisiana State) clutch hit, along with a Sharks outfield error, resulted in two runs for the Green and White. Williams contributed to Bethesda’s positive momentum with a sacrifice fly to deep center that scored Ruddell. 


Kevin Scully (James Madison) was Bethesda’s seventh pitcher on the bump. He allowed one more Sharks score on an RBI single, but struck out back-to-back batters to limit Martha’s Vineyard’s damage. 


The Big Train had another hopeful rally in the top of the eighth, as a Martha’s Vineyard error allowed a hustling Jeffery Heard (Sacramento State) to reach third base all the way from first. Schiavone knocked in Heard with a fielder’s choice RBI to bring the score to 6-4. 


Jack Robinson (Roanoke College) entered as pitcher number eight for the Big Train and proceeded to load the bases, yet he impressively struck out two straight Sharks batters to prevent any more runs.


Martha’s Vineyard capped off their victory by retiring Bethesda’s final three batters in a row to bring the game to a close. 


Even with the negative result, Coach Colangelo was still proud of how his team adapted to their unstructured schedule. “It’s a lot on the road,” said Coach Colangelo. “They didn’t play the past couple days. [Also,] sleeping in a dorm that’s not their bed…sleeping in a strange place. So just to see how they came and competed in an uncomfortable situation was awesome.” 


The Big Train return to Bethesda for a quick turnaround, facing off against the Southern Maryland Senators on Thursday at Shirley Povich Field, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.