(October 11, 2020 – Addison, TX) The season essentially ended as most of it played out Sunday afternoon as the Dallas Spirits (35+) squad saw its season come to an end. The Dallas Mustangs were able to put together 5 wins on the season, just one game less the the Spirits who finished with a historical low 6-11-2 record. Three of those five wins for the Mustangs came in the form of the Spirits and it culminated Sunday afternoon with a season-ending loss that left the Spirits scratching their heads as they left the field at Greehill School.
The loss puts an end to the Spirits long shot bid at a title in NTABL Veterans League play that saw the team tie and lose by a run to the league’s number one seed and also win by 9 runs over the league’s number two seed earlier in the season. But a string of errors late in the game cost the ghosts once again and in a game that they seemed to be cruising along in, they could only watch as the game slowly disappeared as they have so many times during the 2020 season.
“I’m really at a loss for words,” commented team skipper, Shawn Lee. “We played well the entire game. We came out firing offensively and for the most part really played good defense. (Duane) Aponte doesn’t deserve a loss for this. He pitched a solid game and we just blew it in the sixth. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. You know you can play, but time and time again a combination of mistakes seem to all pile up for us literally at the same time and the house of cards comes falling down.”
Lee’s reference came in the form of 3 errors in sixth that saw the team squander a 3 run lead only to lose by a run. The Mustangs were able to get a runner aboard in the first on a Spirits fielding error that turned into nothing after Aponte was able to get the next two hitters to ground out. The Spirits then opened things up right away in the bottom half of the first inning after Cliff Brade drew a lead off walk. Brade stole second and then eventually stole third after Eric McPherson went down on swings. Kirk Sipila followed with an RBI single to make it 1 to 0, Spirits and after Travis Hitzeman singled, Lee popped up in the infield to record out number two. Brian Hackney stayed hot at the plate with a single to score Sipila and after Lee was able to run for Hackney and stole second, David Tipton drew a walk to load the bases. Brant Finchum followed with an RBI single to score Hitzeman and the Spirits were up 3 to 0 before Aponte grounded out to end the inning.
The Mustangs went in order in the second outside of a base-on-balls for Michael Pierce that went nowhere and the Spirits added a pair of runners in the bottom of the second but weren’t able to score any runs.
Aponte set the Mustangs in order in the third and the Spirits made it 4 to 0 after the Mustangs turned to Marc Boggio to replace their starting pitcher, Brian Underhill. Hitzeman welcomed Boggio with a single and after advancing to both second and then third on a pair of wild pitches, Lee was able to reach on a fielder’s choice that cost the team Hitzeman at the dish as the home plate umpire called Hitzeman out after the shortstop relayed home. It appeared Hitzeman had easily slid under the tag, but the umpire awarded an out based on what appeared to be a good throw home but a late tag that was called an out. Lee advanced on a wild pitch and was then able to score from second on an RBI single by Tipton. Tipton then stole second to put himself in scoring position but Boggio was able to get Finchum to pop-up to end the inning.
The Mustangs rallied for a run in the fourth inning after Christopher Pritchett singled. Boggio popped out to leave one on with one out and Pritchett was able to swipe second to get into scoring position. Ravi Malick wore a pitch from Aponte to put two runners on and a follow up single by Stefan Klock allowed Pritchett to score to cut the lead down to 4 to 1. Aponte was able to get Pierce to fly out and despite a single by Matthew Hinders, Aponte was also able to get Mike Dossey to pop-out to end the inning.
The Spirits offense then shut down at that point and as the game reached the sixth inning with the league’s two-hour time limit approaching, the Mustangs took to the offensive side and it appeared that the Fall heat was getting to the Spirits defense. Boggio led off the inning by reaching on a Spirits fielding error and Malick followed with a double that scored Boggio. Klock followed with a single that just got passed the glove of Lee at shortstop and Malick was able to score to cut the Spirits lead to, 4 to 3 after the ball got past the Spirits left fielder and allowed Klock to advance to second. A frustrated Aponte then proceeded to walk Pierce to put two runners on and the Spirits were poised for a double-play opportunity. That opportunity was missed after Dossey grounded to Lee at short and Lee missed the ball and it went off of his foot and into the outfield. Klock was able to score on the play to tie the game and frustration was clearly visible on the defensive side. Pierce was then able to catch Aponte sleeping and took off and successfully stole third base and was able to then score on a ground out that helped stop some of the bleeding. Aponte rebounded and struck out Jeremy Greene to end the inning, but the Spirits found themselves in a hole with 13 minutes left on the game clock.
Hitzeman led off the bottom of the sixth with a foul ball that went about 340 feet and would have tied the game had it stayed fair, but he was able to keep the inning alive after dropping a Texas league single to the right side. Lee flew out to right to record the first out and Hackney was able to reach on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Hitzeman at second. Tipton was patient and drew a walk and with Lee at second base running for Hackney, the team was hoping for Finchum to play hero and the veteran came close but wasn’t able to come through. After drawing a 3-1 count, Finchum hit one to right field but the Mustangs outfielder was able to chase it down and end the Spirits 2020 season.
“We really don’t have any excuses,” Lee continued. “We refer to them as a Spirits inning. When a series of events occurs and seems to exacerbate into something bad for us and we literally do it nearly every game. I feel like I’m responsible for this one. I know we always say it’s a chain of things, but I let my team down by missing an easy ground ball that would have gotten us out of this. For that, I apologize to my team and our fans. I own it and I’ll do whatever I can to make it up to this squad. It’s been a tough year. We were missing some key pitchers and in this league, pitching is essential. I think Aponte and Jonathan Duran did a hell of a job carrying us all year and hopefully next season we can give them more support. Hats off to the Mustangs. They have our number. They are this team’s kryptonite and they kept fighting. And hats off to Hitzeman and Sipila for carrying us offensively all season. Hackney had a late season resurgence that was really helpful and McPherson was pretty solid all year. I feel like I let these guys down and I’m thankful they’re on this team.”
The loss puts an end to a fairly disappointing season for the Spirits in 35+ play, however the team remains alive and well in the DFW-ABA 40+ League with two games left on the regular season schedule before playoffs begin. A special thanks goes out to all of our Spirits supporters including our the generous donations received from area business and the support of fans and family.