It took 15 innings and everything out of both teams, but the Big Train emerged with the win in the end.
Bethesda, MD – by: Paul Fritschner – The only way you can describe Thursday night’s game is a battle. Two of the best teams in the entire nation fought hard for 15 (fifteen) (1-5) innings in a battle for first place, and it was a shame one team had to lose. Every time you thought it was over, something would happen that would keep the game alive. Fans yelled, there were “ohhhs” and “ahhs” and everything of the like. The dugouts celebrated as their teams got out of tight situations, and the teams delivered a gem of a game. It was amazing baseball theater, and it was one of the most thrilling games of the year, but it was the Alexandria Aces (25-8) that were eventually saddled with the loss in a game that took four hours and twenty-one minutes. The Bethesda Big Train (26-9) pulled into a tie for first place as the season enters its final week of play.
The game started off poorly for the Aces, as the Big Train scored three times in the bottom of the first. A few hits and some tough plays in the field allowed Bethesda to jump out to an early lead off Aces starter Matthew Brooks (North Carolina Charlotte). Brooks settled into a groove though, and only allowed one run over the next two and two-thirds innings before he was relieved.
The Aces were not deterred by those runs, and they got on the board in the second when Mack Nathanson (Wofford) drove in Eli Boggess (Morehead State) on a sacrifice fly. Then in the next inning, Boggess came through when he drove in two runs on a double to the wall in left field. The game was tied at three, but not for long. In the fourth, Bethesda got a run back to take the lead.
Things progressed rather smoothly for both teams until the seventh inning. Ray Zuberer (Western Kentucky) singled to start the inning and worked his way to third base. With a runner on first and one out, Stephen Schoch entered the game to pitch for Bethesda. Schoch, the South’s starter in the All Star Game and one of the league’s best relievers, had not allowed a run all season. However, Boggess grounded into a fielder’s choice, allowing Zuberer to score and tie the game. The run was not charged to Schoch, but it was a new ballgame nonetheless. Little did the two teams know what was in store, as at that point, the game was not even halfway done.
The game went back-and-forth and back-and-forth as neither side wanted to capitulate to the other. The Aces had a runner at third in the tenth, but the Big Train got out of it. The Big Train had the leadoff runner on in the 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, and 14th, but none of them scored. The Big Train had the winning run in scoring position in the 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th, and 14th, but none of them scored. In fact, it took a herculean effort to keep the game locked at four in the 13th.
Jacob Parker (Georgia Southern) pitched the 13th and allowed a leadoff double – the problem was, an error allowed the runner to get to third. With nobody out and the winning run 90 feet away, the outlook wasn’t brilliant for the
Mudville Nine Alexandria Aces. Head Coach David DeSilva brought Alex Andronica (Charleston Southern) in from left to form a rare five-man infield. Parker walked the next batter, but that only set up what was about to take place. A popout to first was how the first out was recorded. Then the improbable happened. With the runner from first stealing, Fox Semones ripped a liner down the first base line. Ethan Cady (Lipscomb) snagged it before the ball could make its way into the outfield, and stepped on first base to record the double play and save the game. It was utter jubilation on the first base side as the Aces stormed out of the dugout, yelling and screaming and giving Parker a huge chest-bump. It seemed like all of the big breaks were going the way of Alexandria.
Two innings later, in the 15th, with no runs having been scored since the seventh, the barrier was finally broken. Mack Nathanson absolutely demolished a baseball into the night sky over the left field fence to give the Aces the lead. Yet again, the Aces celebrated, but they still needed to record the final three outs to seal the win.
Jacob Parker returned to the mound. He recorded the first two outs in a very quick and efficient manner. The Big Train were down to their final batter, and their last hope. Parker had Vinny Esposito down to the final strike. Then came the most crushing moment of the entire night. Esposito swung and missed at strike three, but the ball took a bad bounce in the dirt and got to the backstop. He reached on the dropped third strike, and the Big Train were still alive.
It seemed only fitting that the game wouldn’t end in a normal fashion. With the tying run on first, a single and a walk loaded the bases. Parker had battled and DeSilva let him remain in the game. However, he walked in the tying run, and allowed the winning run to move to third as the bases remained loaded. That was it for Parker, who was replaced by Dustin Lander (Charleston Southern).
He was tasked with facing one of, if not the best, hitters in the entire league. James Outman strolled to the plate, and it only took one pitch. On the first delivery from Lander, Outman hit a shallow fly ball into left field. Andronica charged in and went into a full-extension dive, and it appeared for an instant that he had made the catch. Then came the sinking realization that the ball was rolling away in left field, and as Andronica dropped his face into the grass, the Big Train ran onto the field to mob Outman by first base. It had a playoff atmosphere, and both teams fought until the bitter end.
With the win, Bethesda now owns the tiebreaker should the two squads finish in a tie for first place. The Big Train moved to 3-1 against the Aces on the year with only one head-to-head matchup remaining.
The Aces will try to rebound on Friday with a doubleheader against the Herndon Braves. If you can’t make it to Alexandra the action will be on Aces Radio or you can follow along on Twitter at @Alexandria_Aces.