(July 7, 2021 – Carrollton, TX) After scoring 35 runs in their last two games, the Spirits (40+) squad picked up some revenge Wednesday night as they faced off against the Drillers at McInnish Park. After an earlier season loss where the Spirits could do nothing but hit directly into easy double-plays, the offense instead took a different route as they got after Drillers starter, Mike Ellis quickly and often.
Despite a landslide of offense in the past few games for the ghosts, a different narrative has been rolling along as well and that in the form of pitching. Pitcher, Duane Aponte put together a no-hitter just two weeks ago in a shortened game versus the Brewers and into the fifth inning of the match up against the Drillers, Aponte wasn’t just tossing no-hit baseball but had a perfect game going into the fifth inning. What seemed destined quickly ended when Chris Allen took a single to right field to break up Aponte’s bid at perfection. The good news for the Spirits veteran pitcher was that he was sitting pretty behind what would eventually be a 13 to 2 win.
Eric Goetz and Travis Hitzeman each finished with a pair of hits to lead the offense for the Spirits, with Hitzeman adding a double, 2 runs scored, and 2 RBIs and Goetz adding a triple, run scored, and two RBIs. Aaron Wilson, Will Nash, and Eric McPherson each finished the night with a double with Wilson also adding a pair of runs batted in as the Spirits went on to score 13 runs on 12 hits in their third straight game that only lasted 5 innings due to the league’s mercy rule. In those 15 innings of play, the team has put together 30 hits to score 48 runs compared to allowing just 6 runs against the team to simply decimate their opponents. In this game’s match up, every hitter in the Spirits lineup except one reached base safely with 13 hitters in the starting lineup card. 8 players drew walks and had the Spirits not left 9 runners on base, the score may have been much worse.
The victory gives the Spirits the number two seed as they move into the DFW-ABA 40 League playoffs that will begin next week. The team finished with an 11-5 regular season record while leading the league in scoring differential at plus 83 runs.
As storms pushed into the area, the diamond at McInnish Park, Field #11 seemed to have a bubble over it as the game only saw light drizzle at best both from the sky and from the Drillers offense. Before Aponte had his shot at 1-2-3 innings, the Spirits offense made a quick statement by putting up 4 runs in the first inning starting off with a single by Goetz. Kirk Sipila drew a walk on four straight pitches after Goetz stole second and the Spirits had two on with nobody out. Hitzeman made it worthwhile by doubling to the left-centerfield gap to score both runners. Shawn Lee reached on an error to put runners on the corners and a pitch later, Hitzeman was able to score on a sacrifice fly by Wilson. Lee went on to swipe second base and a bunt single by David Tipton kept the Spirits in business. Lee scored on a passed ball during an at-bat by Nash that led to another base-on-balls, and another 4-pitch walk to Hunt loaded the bases for Earl German who eventually went down swinging to end the fast start by the Spirits offense.
Aponte went on to set Mark Lamkin, Scot Swingle, and Chris Allen in order and despite Stacy Scott and Aponte both reaching base to start the Spirits second, the team was held scoreless when Jonathan Duran grounded into a double-play and McPherson went down swinging. Moving into the bottom half of the second, Aponte repeated his quick work of the Drillers offense by setting down Paul Tayler, Will Nicholson, and Travis McDaniel while recording his second strikeout on the night.
The Spirits again made a little noise without any dividends in the third after Kirk Sipila reached on a one-out single. Hitzeman flew out to the first baseman and Lee singled to keep the offense moving. Wilson was able to draw a base-on-balls but all of the action on the bags went for naught after Tipton flew out to strand bases loaded for the second straight inning. Aponte remained perfect in the third, setting down Manny Garcia, Ellis, and Mark Flemming while recording his third strikeout to conserve the Spirits 4-run lead.
The ghosts then opened up things in the fourth as Nash started things off with a double and Shawn Hunt drew a walk. Both runners advanced on a double-steal to put them both in scoring position and German made it bases loaded with yet another walk by Ellis. Scott picked up the easy RBI as Ellis gave him a free pass to first and at that point the Drillers had seen enough and turned to veteran, Bill Downing to shut things down. Aponte welcomed Downing with a sacrifice fly ball that allowed Hunt to score and after Downing rallied to strike out Duran, McPherson followed with a double to score German. Goetz added an exclamation point on the inning by smashing a triple to the right-centerfield wall, allowing both Scott and McPherson to score. Sipila eventually flew out, but the 5-run inning was good for a 9 to 0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth.
As minds began to wonder, Aponte set down Eric McDuffie, Lamkin, and Swingle in order to remain perfect as the Spirits offense quickly returned to the dugout for additional hitting. This time, it was another 4-spot as the offense started with a single by Hitzeman and a walk to Lee to put two on with nobody out. Wilson followed with a double to score both runners and a single by Tipton moved Wilson to third. Nash scored Wilson with an RBI sacrifice fly ball and after a fly out by Hunt, German added another run for the Spirits by scoring Tipton on a triple to right field. Scott was hit by a pitch but Downing was able to get Aponte to fly out to end the inning.
With a 13 to 0 lead, the Spirits took the field in the bottom half of the fifth knowing that 3 outs meant a league-force mercy rule win. As the buzz of Aponte’s perfect game seemed to boil over, it quickly turned to spoil after Allen singled to right-center field. The ball was a short-hit fly ball that was creeping toward the gap. Tipton gave it serious chase and nearly made the catch with a full on dive that fell just short. McPherson may have had a shot at the ball but was forced to turn away due to Tipton coming on strong. Aponte may have momentarily lost composure as Taylor was then hit by a pitch to put two runners on for the Drillers. Nicholson was then able to reach after the Spirits tried to turn a pair, squeezing Taylor at second and allowing Allen to reach third. Nicholson then took second base on a defensive indifference by the Spirits and Aponte regrouped and struck out McDaniel. Garcia then followed with a legitimate single up the middle that allowed Allen and Nicholson to score and the Drillers were on the board. Ellis followed with another single, but Aponte was able to get Flemming to ground out to end the game.
“Hell of a game tonight from (Duane) Aponte,” Lee commented after his team’s win. “This would have been his second straight no-hitter. He’s been absolutely dealing lately and as much as we would have liked to see him go perfect, a win is a bigger deal tonight as we solidify the second seed for playoffs. Another great effort offensively and hopefully it embeds some confidence as we get ready for the postseason next week.”
The victory aligns the Spirits against the Rangers next week starting on Wednesday night at the ghosts will host the first game of a doubleheader. If they sweep, the Spirits will then move on to the second round. In the event of a split, there will be an if necessary game to follow on Thursday night at McInnish Park, Field #10 starting at 8:30PM. Game one details can be seen by clicking here, and game two details can be viewed by clicking here. Be sure to download the iScore Central app to listen live online for Spirits postseason action.