(November 14, 2018 – Plano, TX) The late night temperatures were as cold as the Spirits (35+) offense Wednesday night where a crisp, yet damp pinch of the 34 degree air silently yelled to each player, ‘you have no business playing baseball this late in the season!’
That message was heard loud and clear by the Spirits both offensively and defensively as the team failed to plate a run and encouraged their opponent with 4 errors in the field of play as the squad fell to the Knights by a score of 8 to 0 in the NTABL Brazos Division fall baseball championship game at Graham Field.
The weather may come off as an excuse, but poor defensive play combined by shut down pitching by the Knights proved to be a perfect formula for winning a championship. Keaton Hougen completely shut down the Spirits offense as he picked up the victory by shutting out the number one seed in 6 innings of work. Hougen gave up 9 hits, walked just one and struck out 9 and brother Haley finished the job by striking out 3 more Spirits en route to the shutout. The Spirits stranded a total of 9 runners and were able to get in 11 hits, but never found a combination of hitting that yielded runs. Combine that with 4 errors on the defensive side early in the game, and the recipe for disaster grows exponentially. Of the 8 runs scored, Spirits pitching allowed just one of those runs to be earned.
“Not a whole lot to say,” commented team manager, Shawn Lee following his team’s loss. “Highly disappointing way to end our fall season. Honestly, it was a season of baseball that never got off the ground. You combine the two straight weeks of rain that halted play and the combination of the league being short fields and it made it a rough season. Not pointing fingers, it simply wasn’t any fun. Losing the way we did puts an exclamation point on the proverbial finger being pointed in our direction…baseball letting you know how it feels about you, but still telling you to have a nice day. I’m not going to rant a line of excuses. We blew it tonight, and the Knights stuck it to us. They played well and we didn’t. Their pitching was solid and ours wasn’t on point. I thought Jonathan Duran did a great job in the final three innings on the mound, but we didn’t put anything together offensively.”
Lee’s squad seemed to have the numbers in place if you look at the game’s box score, however the lack of timely hitting combined with pitching that simply didn’t allow the team to move forward made it seemingly easy for the Knights to earn the fall crown. The Knights wasted little time picking up the lead in the first inning essentially winning the game in the first inning. Staring pitcher, Jason Bottenfield looked good from the start after striking out Greg Haddon to start the game, but things went south for the Spirits, quickly. Roger Battani blooped a single and Haley Hougen followed with another single. Matthew Lawley reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Hougen at second and the Knights had runners at the corners with two down. It appeared the Spirits may leave the inning unscathed, but Battani scored on a pitch from Bottenfield that hit the turf and Greg Pennywell would later reach on a base-on-balls. Jesus Marquez reached on a Spirits fielding error to load the bases and Bottenfield walked Jesus Marquez to make it 2 to 0, Knights. A single by David Poole scored Pennywell and it was 3 to 0 before the Spirits were able to get Dewey Leggett to ground out.
Brant Finchum and Bottenfield were retired to start the Spirits half of the inning, but Kirk Sipila and Travis Hitzeman brought signs of offensive life as Sipila singled and Hitzeman doubled to push him to third. Bobby Kornhauser was battling a 2-2 count during a 6-pitch at-bat when a passed ball gave Sipila opportunity to take home. The Spirits leading hitter and season MVP made his way toward the dish, but Pennywell was able to retrieve the ball and relay to Hougen covering the dish and Sipila was called out in a bang-bang play that could have been called either direction.
The Knights added 3 more runs in the second inning after Keaton Hougen led off with a single and both Haddon and Battani followed by reaching on Spirits fielding errors. A poorly-called infield fly that retired Haley Hougen allowed Keaton Hougen to score after the ball dropped 50 feet down the right field line and Haddon would later score on a ground out by Lawley. Pennywell followed with a two-out RBI single that scored Battani and the Knights held a 6 to 0 lead before Michael Kubick grounded out to end the inning. David Tipton was able to reach on a single between a pair of Spirits strikeouts in the bottom half of the second, and despite stealing second the Spirits weren’t able to get him further than third.
Hitzeman came into pitch to replace Bottenfield in the third and the Knights ran up the score to 8 to 0 after Marquez reached on the fourth Spirits error in three innings. It appeared that the game was over less the crying after Poole drew a walk and was later squeezed at second when Leggett reached on a fielder’s choice. Keaton Hougen went down looking, but Haddon followed with a single up the middle to score both runners and the Knights were preemptively celebrating as they took to the defensive side moving into the bottom half of the inning. The Spirits were able to load the bases in the bottom half of the inning after Duran and Jack Nash led the inning off with back-to-back singles. Finchum went down on strikes and Bottenfield singled to give the Spirits signs of life, but Sipila followed with a medium speed chopper to the Knights shortstop and the Knights easily turned two to end the rally.
From that point forward, it was as slow death as both sides traded slow and fruitless innings of baseball amidst the chilly temperatures falling on the quiet background of a city preparing for a night of rest. Pennywell and Poole led the Knights offense, each with a pair of hits, while Hadden led the team with a pair of RBIs and a run scored. For the Spirits, Bottenfield and Duran each led with a pair of hits.
“Despite the loss, I’m still extremely proud of this group,” continued Lee. “They play the game with dignity and respect and I’m thankful for that. They’re a solid foundation to be part of and the equalize my urge to be a sore loser sometimes. I hate losing, but not as much as I like playing baseball with this group of players. And the Knights are a great team too. Solid players, but more importantly, solid people. Congrats to them for winning the title.”
The loss concludes Spirits baseball for 2018. The team will now break for the winter months and begin discussions for 2019 starting in late December and early January. The team is thankful for your support and those of you who take the time to support the club’s players and its goals. The team looks forward to a great 2019 campaign and expects to make another road trip to Las Vegas for the Kickoff Classic tournament March 9-11. Visit the website and team Facebook page for more off-season information and details on upcoming events and stories.