(July 20, 2021 – Euless, TX) Despite earning the number two seed heading into the DFW ABA 40 League playoffs, the Spirits (40+) squad didn’t seem to show any advantage as they hosted a talented Redbirds squad for a pair of games to see which team would advance to the league championship series. In game one between the two teams, hits were few and far between, but both teams managed to made due when they were able to hit and as it would turn out, the Redbirds would earn the final edge as they stopped a bottom of the seventh inning rally from the ghosts two take game one by a score of 4 to 3.
Kevin Fought doubled with one out in the first and following a fly out by Jerry Gamez, Phil Bosco drew a walk and it appeared the Redbirds were ready to score. Spirits starter, Duane Aponte was able to get Dustin Harrison to fly out before anyone crossed the dish and the score opportunity was denied. Eric McPherson then led off with a single to start the Spirits half of the inning, but was squeezed at second after Kirk Sipila was able to reach on the fielder’s choice. Travis Hitzeman singled to push Sipila to second but Shawn Lee flew out and Aaron Wilson grounded out and the score remained at zero to end the first.
The Redbirds then rallied for 3 runs in the second after Jerry Anderson was hit by a pitch and later stole second. Aponte then followed by striking Mark Tierny and the Redbirds had two free runners with nobody out. Chris Cec reached on a ground out that forced Tierny out at second and moved Anderson to third, and a walk to Lester Bedford loaded the bases. Anderson was able to cross the dish on a wild pitch and with both runners advancing on the play, lightning struck in negative fashion as Eric Tonips reached on a Spirits fielding error that allowed both Cec and Bedford to score. Juan Mollinedo reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Tonips and second and Joe Lowry grounded out to end the inning, but the damage was done and the birds had a 3 to 0 lead.
Things remained quiet until the fourth when the Redbirds struck again after Cec tripled with one out. He later scored on a single by Bedford and the Redbirds held a 4 to 0 advantage heading into the bottom of the fourth. The Spirits went in order and both teams went in order during the fifth as the game turned into a pitcher’s duel at that point.
Fast forward to the cliche, bottom of the seventh, down by four runs scenario and the Spirits were almost able to make magic happen. Sipila led things off with a single and a double by Hitzeman moved him to third. Lee grounded out, but Wilson followed with a double to score Hitzeman and suddenly it was 4 to 2. David Tipton grounded out, but was able to push Wilson to third and a single by Will Nash cut the lead to one run, but Anderson was able to get Shawn Hunt to ground out and the Redbirds had a 1 to 0 lead in the semifinal playoff series.
“Tough loss there,” Lee commented following the game. “More of us need to step up, self included. One poor inning of defense cost us this game. You can give them free runners and then exacerbate that with an error. That seems to be how it works. Whenever we mess up, it’s a handful of things that seems to come together. And then the small come back and the end? That just makes the loss hurt more. Hopefully we can rebound for game two here and get our heads back up.”
Hitzeman led the Spirits offense in game one, adding a pair of hits that included a double, run scored, and an RBI. Wilson finished with a double, run scored, and an RBI, and Nash was responsible for the other run with his RBI single. Aponte went the distance defensively, allowing just 2 earned on 6 hits while walking 4, and striking out 3.
Game two followed on the following evening, where Spirits had hoped to force a game three by winning the first game and setting up to move into the third and decisive game. Unfortunately the offense was much quieter. The team went up against Redbirds veteran pitcher, Scott Clawson and Clawson took full advantage of the Spirits hitting issues. The Spirits ended up finishing with just 4 hits. McPherson, Sipila, Hitzeman, and Hunt each hit safely for singles and outside of two walks to Tipton, the offense was nowhere to be found.
The Redbirds outhit the Spirits by a margin of 10 to 4 and went on to score 4 runs in the fourth and another in the sixth to earn a 5 to 1 win and advance to the championship series.
“Overall, we just weren’t playing our game,” continued Lee. “Hats off to the Redbirds. They’re a great team and we certainly wish we could have made it more interesting. These losses are hard to swallow. There’s some redundancy to us almost getting there and then not getting over the mountain. We need to do better. We need to find the missing keys that are keeping us from winning a championship. It’s been a few years for us so I think it’s time to figure some things out. We all love to play, but having it not mean something is disappointing. Regardless, I’d rather lose with this group of guys than win with anyone else.”