(August 1, 2017 – Plano, TX) The NTABL Open American League Championship Series semifinal began this past Tuesday night, with the Dallas Spirits (18+) club hosting the Tube Sox at Graham Field in Plano. During their inaugural season in the NTABL, the Spirits discovered season-long success by finishing with a record of 17-3 and will have the advantage of the number one seed and home field throughout their upcoming playoff run. The Tube Sox on the other hand, had mixed results finishing the season 11-6-2 and with the fourth seed in the regular season standings.
On an unusually cool and raining August evening, the Spirits sent ace, All-Star pitcher, Duane Aponte to the hill. Aponte enters the playoffs with a record of 10-1, while sporting an ERA of 2.42. Through the first three innings of play, neither team produced much offense as both teams worked efficiently scouting one another for the league’s opening playoff game. In the top of the fourth inning, it was the Sox getting things started with their lead off hitter, Cameron Brewer. Brewer reached on an Aponte walk and Andrew Scates followed by hitting a chopping ground ball to the left of Spirits third baseman, John Showalter. Showalter fielded the ball and relayed to second baseman, Teddy Croft for the force out at second, however the relay to first was too late to complete the double-play. Leaving one on with one out, former professional player, Fraser Holmes looked for a pitch to drive and didn’t wait long taking the first pitch he saw again in the direction of Showalter. Showalter made the best of his second double-play opportunity by relaying to Croft and across the diamond to first to complete the 5-4-3 double-play.
The Spirits followed the nice defensive play by drawing first blood on the scoreboard, starting in the bottom of the fourth inning. Tube Sox pitcher, Michael Schweiss started the inning by allowing a lead off infield hit to Spirits first baseman, Eric Goetz. Goetz advanced to second on a single by Collin Stacha, but Schweiss was able to get Spirits slugger, Mike Werner to strike out swinging. Croft made his way to the dish with two on and one out and grounded toward second. The Sox defense was able to squeeze Stacha for the second out, but Croft beat out the turn and Goetz was able to scramble to third on the play, leaving runners at the corners with two outs. Kyle Redinger was next to hit and looking to make an impact. With an aggressive approach at the plate, Redinger was quickly down 0-2 in the count. Undeterred but determined, Redinger found the next pitch, a fast ball away, to his liking and promptly drove it high and deep down the right field line. With the wind blowing from left to right field, the ball continued to carry and with a resounding ring off of the foul pole, the Spirits were up 3 to 0 on the Redinger home run. Redinger later commented on his big hit. “It was an 0-2 count and I went into protect mode. He threw me something to hit and I drove it. Glad the ball remained fair and fortunate to have guys on base at that time to make an impact.”
In the top of the firth, the Tube Sox looked to get on the board to answer the Spirits and Trevor Keele got things started with a single to left. Keele was nearly doubled off of first when the next batter, Jimmy Von Thron lined out to Showalter at third. Reacting quickly, Showalter snagged the liner, but was too off balance to make the quick throw across the diamond to complete the double-play. Kameron Wilson followed by popping out to Redinger at short and with one on and two out, John Scoggins sent a ball into right-center for a single. Keele, who had stolen second, scored easily and the deficit was cut down to 3 to 1. After recovering the hit in the outfield, Spirits right fielder, Carl Suverkrop made an attempt to cut down the run at home. Spirits catcher, Mitch Abeita recognized that there would not be a play at the plate and proceeded to cut the ball off and fired it to second base as Scoggins attempted to advance on the throw. Abeita’s throw was on the money and Scoggins was cut down at second to end the short Sox rally.
Schweiss was able to set the Spirits down in order in the next frame and the game remained, 3 to 1 through five complete innings. In the top of the sixth, the Sox were once again able to see their lead off man reach. Schweiss drew the free pass, but the Spirits defense remained spot-on as Jacob Stringer grounded the first pitch he saw again in the direction of Showalter at third. Showalter and company remained sharp by fielding the ball cleanly to complete another 5-4-3 twin-killing.
The game’s next action occurred in the top half of the seventh, when Brewer was able to get things started for the Sox with a single up the middle. Brewer was able to swipe second and following the next pitch and as the ball was thrown back to the Aponte from Abeita, Brewer chose to attempt a delayed-steal of third. The Spirits were alert however, communicating the play and providing enough time for Showalter to retreat to his bag where he awaited a perfect throw from the always calm, Aponte. Showalter easily tagged Brewer for the first out. Showalter later commented on the aggressive play by the Sox. “I’m not sure why he felt like he needed to take third at that point in the inning with nobody out. Perhaps he thought he’d catch us sleeping? Once I saw him make the break, I got to the bag and Duane put the throw right into my glove. They forced us to make a play and we did just that.”
The play appeared to provide some additional momentum in the Spirits direction as it cleared the bases with one out. The Sox however, didn’t let the great defensive play get to them as they rallied to produce 3 runs in the inning to take the lead 4 to 3. Aponte hit Scates with a pitch and Scates was able to move over after Holmes singled. Keele followed with a double to score Scates, and Von Thron played hero by following up with a single to score both Homes and Keele. Showalter saw enough from his ace pitcher, who had done a solid job of keeping Sox hitters from producing any sort of an offensive threat at that point, however the Sox appeared to be catching up with some of his crafty pitching, so Showalter turned to Redinger to tighten things back up. Redinger was able to get Kameron Wilson to ground out and followed by stranding Thron on the base paths as he struck out John Scoggins.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Spirits hoped to find an answer for the Sox rally, and with one out in the inning and Redinger at the plate, play was briefly interrupted by the emergence of a lost cottontail rabbit. The “Rally Rabbit”, as coined by Goetz in the moment, ran from the first base side of the diamond to behind home plate and then off into the Sox third base dugout. Following the rabbit’s on field scandal, game play reconvened and Redinger took the first pitch he saw deep to right-center field. The shot one-hopped the wall and the speedy Redinger made his way to third for a triple. Showalter was up next with the RBI opportunity and having gone hitless in two earlier plate appearances, was looking to contribute. After working the count to 1-1, Showalter drove a belt-high fastball hard on the ground back and up the middle for an RBI single. With the game now tied at 4 to 4, Abeita made his way to the dish also looking for a way to contribute offensively after starting 0-2 in his first two trips. With Showalter leading off of first, Abeita attacked the first pitch he saw and sent it streaking over the infield on a perfect path between the left and center fielders. Showalter was off to the races on contact, and as the ball reached the base of the wall, Showalter was able to score easily while Abeita stood triumphantly at second with the RBI double to give his team the lead.
The Spirits defense buckled down and remained poised for the next two innings, highlighted by a beautiful 6-6-3 double-play starring Croft, the Spirits shortstop in the top half of the ninth. Despite the third double-play by the ghosts, who had remained steadfast throughout the game, the contest proceeded to end on a strange note. With one out remaining in the game for the Sox, Von Thron hit a liner to right-center for a single. The Spirits right fielder ballooned a throw that Von Thron recognized was about to sail over the second base bag and took off aggressively towards second in an attempt to get into scoring position. What he didn’t count on, was Showalter backing up the throw from third base and near the middle of the diamond. After flagging down the ball, Showalter fired a relay to Croft covering at second to cut down Von Thron and to end the game.
Showalter commented on his team’s victory. “The team really played solid all the way around. It was a defensive clinic out there tonight. We had big hits tonight, timely hits, and they came when they were needed. The Sox are a good team and a good group of guys. We look forward to the rest of the series.”
Following the game’s close, Mitch Abeita was contacted by the Cleburne Railroaders in the American Association for a professional contract. Abeita accepted the opportunity and will leave his team behind for the exciting opportunity. Abeita leaves the team with a .379 average, good for 6 doubles, 1 home run, and 10 RBI. The team is thankful for his many contributions to the Spirits Baseball Club and wish him success as he continues his professional baseball career playing for the Railroaders.
The Spirits return to action in the best-of-three series as they’ll again host the Tube Sox, Sunday, August 6 with a 2:00PM first pitch. Click here for schedule details or to watch the game live, online.