(October 1, 2020 – Carrollton, TX) It was a slug fest that featured a 4-inning game shorted by league time constraints but allowed enough time for the Spirits (35+) squad and the Dodgers to account for 25 runs off of 24 hits and 10 total base-on-balls before the dust settled and it was over. After it was over, it was the lower seeded Spirits who came out victorious, winning by a score of 14 to 11 as they advance to Round 2 of the NTABL Veterans League double-elimination tournament to crown a 2020 champion.
Eric McPherson was one of the stars of the show, finishing 3-for-3 on the evening, adding a pair of runs scored, 2 runs batted in and a stolen base. Cliff Brade, Brian Hackney and Duane Aponte also added a pair of hits on the night with Hackney adding 3 runs batted in with big hits at big moments during the contest. Aponte added a double, 2 runs scored and 3 runs batted in to aide his own cause as he was also the man on the mound getting by just good enough to pick up the victory. Aponte pitched 3.1 innings, allowing an aggressive Dodgers team to pick up 9 earned runs off of 8 hits, walking a staggering 7 batters but also striking out 5.
“Duane’s numbers don’t really paint the full picture of his performance,” mentioned Spirits manager, Shawn Lee following the game. “He was throwing a lot of pitches early, but he settled in and delivered during a few of the moments that really mattered during the game. The fourth inning got away from him a little, but there was some strategy in that as well.”
The Spirits started off quickly in the top half of the first inning after McPherson singled following an infield pop-up by Brade to start off the game. McPherson swiped second to quickly get himself into scoring position and he was able to do so on an RBI single by Kirk Sipila that gave the Spirits a 1 to 0 lead. Sipila was able to advance to second on the throw home and later moved to third after Travis Hitzeman grounded out. Lee was able to then reach on an infield pop-up that landed safely in the dirt due to some miscommunication by the Dodgers allowing Sipila to score and for the ghouls to take a 2 to 0 before Jason Bottenfield flew out to end the inning.
As fast as the Spirits had thought they started the game, the Dodgers started faster and more fiercely. Eric Landsburger crushed a triple to the right field wall and scored two pitches later after Aponte put one in the dirt. Gerald Cole flew out and Dee Mauldin battled for a single and Brian Kellner followed up with another single to put two on with one out. A double to the left-center field wall by Kevin Simmons scored both runners and just like that, the Dodgers had a 3 to 2 edge. Lance Broadway followed with a single to move Simmons to third and Simmons was then able to score after Spirits outfielder, David Tipton mishandled the ball before getting it back into the infield. Broadway then moved to second after Joe Venker singled and John Kirby drew a walk to load them up for Jeff Hamm. Broadway was able to cross the dish on a ball that got by Spirits catcher, Shawn Hunt to make it 5 to 3 Dodgers before Aponte went on to strike out both Hamm and Patrick Richer to end the inning.
“Definitely felt like a punch to the gut,” Lee continued. “We had a decent start to the game and then suddenly they’re jacking shots to the fence and crossing the plate on a mistake between our pitcher and catcher. It felt like it was going to be the same old, but the guys came back to the dugout with their heads up ready to get back at it. Have to give them credit. Nobody checked out after the big inning from the Dodgers.”
The Spirits then opened up for 9 runs in the second inning to take an 11 to 5 lead. Hackney singled for one of this two hits. He advanced to second on a passed ball and Tipton filled the hole at first after wearing a pitch from Venker, the Dodgers pitcher. Hunt drew a walk to load the bases and a double from Aponte that made its way to the center field wall scored all the runners, but the Spirits weren’t finished. Brant Finchum drew a walk and Brade singled to load them a second time and McPherson came through with a single to the right side that scored Aponte. Sipila reached on a Dodgers fielding error that allowed Finchum to reach home and Hitzeman drew an RBI walk to keep the bases loaded. The Dodgers had seen enough of Venker and turned to former White Sox product, Lance Broadway to stop the bleeding. Broadway was able to get Lee to look silly on three strikes, but Bottonfield took the first pitch he saw to center field to score McPherson. Hackney kept the inning rolling with a shot down the first base line that scored both Sipila and Hitzeman before Broadway was able to recover and get Tipton on strikes and Hunt to ground out. After 5 singles, a double, a hit-by-pitch and 3 walks, the Spirits had a commanding lead.
Things appeared on the up-and-up for the Spirits as Aponte settled in and was able to get Anthony Cass and Landsberger on strikeouts, but Cold kept the inning alive temporarily with a single before Mauldin lined out to tend the inning. The Spirits then returned to offense and found another 3 runs in the third inning to increase the lead to 14 to 5 after Aponte led things off with a single. He moved to second on a single by Finchum and after Brade singled to make it three straight, Aponte crossed the dish to pad the Spirits lead. McPherson singled to score Finchum and after Sipila flew out to the infield, Hitzeman was able to get Brade home with a sacrifice fly before Lee looked silly behind another Broadway strike out to end the inning.
“We were pretty confident at that point,” Lee continued. “We knew the game was running out of time due to the long length of each inning and we just looked to play solid defense and get Duane some help if he needed.”
The Dodgers rallied for a run in the bottom half of the third after both Broadway and Venker drew walks. Kirby was able to score Broadway on a single before Hamm flew out to end the inning. With a 14 to 6 lead, the Spirits went quietly in the top half of the fourth setting up the bottom half of the fourth inning with time winding down based on the league’s two-hour time limitations. Richer flew out to start the Dodgers fourth but things got a little crazy for Aponte as he struggled to get a strike over the plate, walking 4 straight starting with Cass and later allowing Cass to score. Lee then turned to Jonathan Duran to try to stave off any comeback ideas from the Dodgers. Kellner welcomed Duran to the game with a 2-run single that cut the Spirits lead to 14 to 9 after Landsberger and Cole scored. Simmons flew out to center but the ball was deep enough to allow Mauldin to advance to third and the move paid off as Broadway followed with a single to score Mauldin and the Spirits lead was now 14 to 10. Venker then followed with a single to score Kellner and the Dodgers were starting to feel some life with the game cut down to 3 runs, but Duran remained poised and battled Kirby through a 7-pitch at-bat that included 3 foul balls before striking Kirby out looking to seal the win for the Spirits.
“Great job by the guys tonight,” Lee continued. “They really hit the hell out of the ball tonight. We didn’t play great in the field but the offense kept their foot on the gas and it paved our way to a win. I thought Hunt did a great job behind the plate tonight and Duran really showed off his veteran poise by coming in during the rally and keeping his head. Hack (Hackney) and Aponte were huge and McPherson also really carried us tonight. We’ve got a big test next week as we’ll face the number one seed.”
The Spirits are now scheduled to face Dallas Modoc, who finished the season as the league’s top team at 12-2-1. The Spirits are responsible for the tie in their record and kept their only loss against them to one run, falling 4 to 3 in a very close game. The game is scheduled for next Thursday, October 8 at Reverchon Park in uptown, Dallas and you can click here for schedule details or to download the iScore Central app to listen to the game live online.