(June 25, 2020 – Dallas, TX) You’ve heard it more than once unfortunately and you’ll say it to yourself again, “a tie in baseball?” Fortunately or unfortunately for the Spirits (35+) squad and depending on how you look at it, the team left the field without a loss Thursday night against Dallas Modoc, the NTABL Veterans League defending 2019 champions. They also left without a win, but a 5 to 5 tie isn’t something to feel bad about, especially given the work the team put in to try to make the game a victory.
A few fielding and mental mistakes combined with some bad timing led to a deficit that very well could have been a nice win had the team not made any errors. Modoc was able to jump out early against Spirits starter, Duane Aponte after Jay Langston led Modoc with a single. Langston popped up to the left side of the Spirits infield for an easy out, but both Spirits fielders misjudged the pop-up and the wind and the ball landed safely right behind the mound. It would have been an easy play for Aponte, but quick confusion led to chaos and a quick start for Modoc. Langston quickly advanced on a wild pitch and after Jerry Anderson singled, Modoc had a 1 to 0 lead. Aponte followed by striking out both James Gardner and Matt Garrabrants, but Anderson was able to advance to second base after a ball got passed catcher, Shawn Hunt. Chris Clark made it hurt by singling to score Anderson and after Josh Claudio grounded out to end the Modoc half of the inning, the Spirits were down 2 to 0.
The offense bounced back quickly however, after Cliff Brade drew a base-on-balls. Eric McPherson went down swinging to leave one on with one out and after Brade swiped second base, Kirk Sipila singled to put runners on the corners. Travis Hitzeman came through with a single to score Brade and with runners on the corners for Shawn Lee, Lee promptly singled up the middle to score Sipila. Lee then swiped second to put he and Hitzeman in scoring position. Modoc starting pitcher, Chris Nelson followed up with a balk that allowed Hitzeman to score and moved Lee to third and the Spirits had a 3 to 2 edge. Aponte went down on strikes and David Tipton was able to draw a walk to keep the inning alive, but two pitches later Tipton was gunned down trying to snag second and the inning was over.
Modoc then added 2 more runs in the second inning after Jonathan Cope drew a one-out walk and then stole second. Bill Kelly followed with an RBI single to score Cope and then went on to advance to third after Nelson singled. Langston followed with an RBI single to score Kelly, but Aponte was able to strike out Anderson and then able to get Gardner to ground out after both runners advanced bases on a wild pitch.
Things remained quiet for both teams for the next few innings as defense and solid pitching was able to slow down the offense of both squads. Fast forward to the top half of the fifth inning when Nelson led off the inning with a single. Aponte was able to set down Langston on strikes, but Anderson followed with another single to put a two on with one out. The Spirits needed a double-play ball and the baseball gods followed through as Gardner hit a quick roller back to Aponte on the mound. Aponte spun and fired to shortstop Brant Finchum, who was racing to cover but the ball was behind Finchum and bounced into the outfield allowing all runners to be safe and for Nelson to score to make it 5 to 3. Aponte was able to get Garrabrants on strikes and to get Clark to fly out to close out the inning, but Modoc had a two run advantage.
The Spirits left Finchum stranded after a lead off single to start the bottom half of the fifth when Brian Hackney, Jonathan Duran and Grant Martin all went in order to follow. The Spirits were then able to hold Modoc scoreless following a two-out double from Cope after Aponte was able to get Kelly to ground out. That left one half an inning left for the Spirits due to league time limit constraints and the Spirits mustered up enough offense to make the game exciting.
After Hunt flew out to start off the inning, Brade drew a walk and advanced to third after McPherson on a single that included a throwing error that allowed both runners to advance. Sipila went down on swings and opportunity appeared to be narrowing, but Hitzeman played a bit of the hero role after Modoc decided to pitch to him. Facing a 2-2 count, Hitzeman made contact with a little roller that barely escaped home plate’s gravity and rolled toward third. The Modoc third baseman chased and fielded as Hitzeman legged out the play and the throw wasn’t in time. Brade was able to score easily on the play, but it was awesome base running and heads up play from McPherson that allowed the Spirits to tie the game as McPherson scored all the way from second with no intent on stopping regardless of the outcome. With a throw to first that was a bit off the mark combined with McPherson’s awareness and quick thinking, the Spirits were able to tie the game at 5 apiece. This the hero opportunity role to Lee but he unfortunately lost the battle to Kelly who had replaced Nelson back in the fourth inning. Kelly was able to get Lee on swings with a 2-2 count and the game ended in a tie.
“Great effort from the guys to come back in this one,” commented Lee after the game. “Boy, I would have loved a good shot to the outfield with them playing in, but the combination of excitement and a few good pitches from Kelly led to my demise. Sucks to be me, but hats off to the fellas for hanging in there. Awesome outing for Aponte. He pitches the whole game and strikes out 8 guys on one of the best hitting teams in the league and you can’t get a win? That’s a tough pill to swallow. You take away our two or three mistakes there, it’s a W for us. But it’s early in the season, strangely, but we’ll learn from it and be better next time.”
The tie puts the Spirits record at 1-0-1 in NTABL Veterans League play with their next game scheduled for Thursday, July 2 at when they host the league-leading Thunderbirds at First Baptist Academy at 7:00PM. Click here for schedule details and instructions on how to download the iScore Central app to listen to games live online.