(July 7, 2016 – The Colony, TX) It was an unusual setting for a pair of the NTABL’s top teams but it was certainly exciting for those who showed up to watch. It was one of those games like in football or basketball, where you expect the last team on offense to win and it came down to the wire. With an approximate 25 mile per hour wind blowing out dead to center field and a baseball field with fences just under the 300 foot mark, the theme of the game was definitely that of the long ball.
The Spirits (35+) used 4 home runs compared to 2 by the Cardinals and used solid defense to end a late Cardinals rally to obtain their 7th win of the season behind the arm and bat of Craig Molldrem Thursday night. The Spirits started off quickly in the first inning when lead off hitter, Cliff Brade lined a shot off the top of the left-center field fence for the game’s first home run and an early 1 to 0 lead. The Cardinals quickly bounced back after a home run deep over the center field fence by Philip Bosco. Guy Koenig reached on an error and later reached third on a single by Jason Gutierrez. Gutierrez got caught leaning toward second base and in a pick off attempt and then later run down, Koenig scored nearly simultaneously as Gutierrez was tagged out.
“I thought the umpire got it wrong,” mentioned Shawn Lee following the game. “It was pretty clear to most of us that the runner was tagged out in the run down a least a step or two prior to the runner scoring. We don’t have replay in this league obviously and my request for an appeal to the base umpire was denied. He got it wrong, but that’s how the game goes.”
Down 2 to 1 heading into the bottom of the second, the Spirits offense returned with a pair of runs to regain the lead. With two outs following a line out by Brant Finchum and a strikeout by Chris Lewis, Jonathan Duran continued his white hot streak of hitting with a single. That set the stage for pitcher Craig Molldrem to support his own cause. Molldrem took the first pitch from Troy Key deep and over the left-center field wall for a 2-run home run that would have been out of most ball parks.
The Spirits added their fourth run on a solo shot by second baseman, Jason Bottonfield. Bottenfield got one up into the jet stream that appeared may stay in the park, but carried deep enough to give the Spirits a 4 to 2 lead. The Cardinals added a run in the top of the 6th to narrow the margin to 4 to 3 before the Spirits used their fourth and final home run of the game in the bottom half of the inning. Bottonfield hit a two out ground rule double to left-center leaving opportunity for catcher Eric McPherson to earn the Spirits an insurance run. McPherson had struggled previously with two check-swing outs in the infield and appeared he’d have another shot at bad luck when he fouled off a pitch from Key. The ball hung in the air behind home plate but Cardinals catcher, Patrick Bilgere didn’t get a chance to track it down, thus giving McPherson new life. He capitalized on the opportunity by crushing the next pitch over the left field wall, giving the Spirits a 6 to 3 lead heading into the 7th inning.
Molldrem walked Jerry Gamez and took a shot again at slugger Philip Bosco after striking him out in his previous at-bat. The gamble didn’t pay off however, as Bosco matched his earlier shot in the game, this time with a two-run home run to center. Koenig then singled leaving one on and nobody out with the score at 6 to 5. Spirits third baseman, John Show made up for an earlier blunder by snagging a shot by Kirk Sipila and getting the lead out at second base leaving one on and one out for the Cardinals. Key grounded out to Tom Miller at first base with Molldrem covering the bag which left Sipila at second with two outs. The Spirits were able to get out of the jam and seal the victory however when Miller snagged his second line drive of the game near first to end the Cardinals rally.
“Defense was solid tonight,” noted Lee. “We didn’t really expect a ‘slug fest’ based on the pitching between these two teams, however when you have conditions like this and a short porch things can get interesting. The Cardinals are a solid team with great hitting so I’m sure our future match-ups will be interesting. I’m proud of my guys though. Miller and Show did great on the corners defensively and hats off to the guys hitting the ball out tonight. It saved us.”
The team returns to action Saturday morning as they’ll play make-up baseball versus the QHT Brewers at 11:15AM at Jesuit College Preparatory. The Brewers handed the Spirits their first loss of the year earlier in the season, so no doubt the squad will be looking for revenge. The Spirits (45+) will also be at Jesuit early Saturday, making up a game against the Hurricanes at 9:00AM.
Game Box Score (Coming Soon)