(March 17, 2021 – Euless, TX) Lots of folks across the nation were likely celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in style, outside the fact it was a weekday and in North Texas, it was a blustery evening filled with nearly gale-force winds and cool air. The Spirits (40+) squad was celebrating as well, perhaps inside rather than vocally and also likely too soon. The ghosts were playing host to the defending champion, and for all intents and purposes a combination of the best baseball players in Dallas and Fort Worth in the form of the Redbirds.
With the wind blowing straight out and gusts upwards of 30 to 40mph at times, it was the Spirits who appeared to be in control most of the game; keyword, appeared. The ghosts played a solid game of baseball for 6 innings before the bottom literally and figuratively fell out. The team will gush in humor about the perpetual, “Spirits inning” referencing innings that don’t go very well for the team. These innings typically consist of a combination of errors, luck, and most importantly, bad-timing. That phrase couldn’t have had a better fit as the team saw a 7 to 1 lead erased in the bottom of the sixth inning as the Redbirds batted around nearly twice, adding 7 singles, 2 doubles, 2 walks, and 2 Spirits fielding errors to put up 11 runs to coast to a 12 to 7 victory.
“It was surreal,” Shawn Lee commented afterwards. “We were in charge most of the game. (Duane) Aponte was putting in a solid effort from the mound, the defense was playing well; we were hitting the ball…it all just went to hell. It’s not like we gave it to them. They earned it, but we simply didn’t find an opportunity to get the hell off of the field.”
What seemed to be a smiley face most of the game turned sour as the team quickly packed their bags and ran for warmer temperatures as the temperature had dipped into 40s without factoring in wind-chill before it was all said and done. With two outs in the first inning, Kirk Sipila drew a walk and scored two pitches later after Lee crushed one to the gap that bounced off the top of the wall, allowing for an RBI double. Aaron Wilson grounded out to strand Lee, but the Spirits had an early lead.
The Redbirds tied the game in the top half of the second when Chris Cec scored on an RBI single from Joe Lowry. The Spirits then rallied to make it 3 to 1 in the bottom of the second after Jonathan Duran reached on a dropped third strike to lead off the frame. An RBI double by Eric McPherson scored Duran, and two pitches later Sipila gave the Spirits run number 3 with an RBI single before Lee flew out and Wilson grounded out to end the inning.
Stacy Scott wore a pitch from Redbirds starter, Dustin Harrison to lead off the Spirits fourth and after Aponte drew a base-on-balls, Harrison rebounded to strike out Shawn Hunt. Duran was then able to reach on a fielder’s choice that doubled up with an error by Jerry Gamez, allowing Scott to score and to give the Spirits a 4 to 1 lead.
The Redbirds offense remained quiet and Aponte continued to deal defensively and in the fifth, the birds turned to left-handed pitcher, Brent Smerczynski to slow down the Spirits offense. The ghosts followed up by greeting the left-hander with 3 additional runs. McPherson started with a single and Sipila and Lee went back-to-back with hits, allowing McPherson to score on Lee’s RBI single. Wilson made it 4 hits in a row to load the bases and Sipila was able to cross the dish after Scott reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Wilson at second. Aponte went down swinging, but Hunt kept the inning alive with an RBI single to score Lee and the Spirits led, 7 to 1 before Duran grounded out to end the inning.
“We thought we were in control,” continued Lee. “We never doubted them though. As we headed out, I even mentioned that this team could hit so we needed to keep up the good work and had to push to close out the game.”
Those seemed to be famous last words as the unthinkable happened in the following frame. In the top half of the sixth, Cec drew a walk to lead things off and Smerczynski flew out to leave one on with one out. Lester Bedford also drew a walk as Aponte started to struggle a bit with the zone and a follow up single by Lowry scored Cec and the score was now, 7 to 2. Kevin Fought then flew out and the Spirits were just an out away from ending the inning. Queue four straight singles by the Redbirds allowing for 4 runs to cross the plate. The Spirits had an opportunity to get out of it after one of the slow choppers in the infield was headed toward Lee at shortstop. Aponte reacted to the hit and the ball charomed off of his glove and changed direction. Lee made a bare-handed attempt to field and get the runner but it was too late. There were several fly balls that turned into singles due to the wind, including one that landed safely behind Aponte at the pitcher’s mound. After the four singles, Sipila turned to Duran to see if a change in pitching might stop the bleeding. The Redbirds followed with back-to-back doubles to score another 3 runs before a pair of Spirits fielding errors allowed for 2 more runs to score. Fought and Gamez both followed with singles to score another run and to keep the tidal wave of offense rolling, but the Spirits were able to relay the throw from the short outfield to home plate to cut down a runner to get out of the inning.
The rally in the bottom half of the sixth fell short as it was all over but the crying for the Spirits. With the amount of time the Redbirds were on offense in the sixth, the league’s 2-hour time limit came into effect and the game was over.
“Honestly, we’ll just forget this one,” Lee continued. “Take it as a lesson that we know this team can come back at any time. And we need to find better ways to close out a game. This would have been a perfect opportunity for us to insert a closer. We took Aponte for granted and we probably shouldn’t have. Lesson learned for next time.”
The loss drops the Spirits record to 1-2 early in DFW-ABA League play and they’ll get a chance to move back to .500 when they visit the Cubs next Wednesday night. Click here for schedule details or to download the iScore Central app to listen into games live online.