(September 7, 2017 – Dallas, TX) The Dallas Spirits (35+) are playing championship baseball starting next week, thanks to a 4 to 0 win over the Dallas Cardinals Thursday night at Reverchon Park in Uptown, Dallas.
“We’re excited to be here,” commented team and club manager, Shawn Lee following the victory. “The guys have played some great baseball all season, just like last year, but we fell a bit short in last year’s playoffs when we tripped up against the Brewers. We’ve been fortunate to have some really talented guys on this team and one hell of a pitcher leading us defensively. It’s great to get this far in such a talented pool of baseball players, but the job isn’t finished and we’ll take nothing for granted until it’s completed.”
Lee’s team did rely on solid pitching once again in the form of Craig Molldrem. Molldrem battled a talented Cardinals lineup and what appeared to be a rather tight strike zone en route to allowing just 2 hits, while striking out 11 Cardinals hitters. Offensively, the Spirits put together 11 hits, all singles, and added three free passes to score 4 runs, while leaving 8 runners stranded.
The game started quietly on the offensive end for both squads as each team relied on solid pitching. Cardinals lead off man, Kevin Fought drew the only free pass given up by Molldrem to start the game off, however his life on the base paths was short lived after Molldrem caught him leaning and the infield put together a quick rundown that eventually ended in Fought being tagged out at first by Molldrem. Molldrem proceeded to strike out both Joe Lowry and Jerry Gamez to kill the inning in a unique, 1-2-3 fashion.
Cliff Brade led things off for the Spirits offense in the bottom half of the inning with a 7-pitch walk, but Cardinals pitcher, Tony Harvey settled in and was able to get Patrick Bilgere and Kirk Sipila to ground out, leaving Brade stranded after John Mahalik lined out on a hard-hit ball to center field.
The Cardinals went down in order again in the second after what appeared would be a lead-off single by Philip Bosco. Bosco lined a shot to right field that one-hopped to Brade before Bosco could barely get out of the box. Brade was able to easily throw out Bosco, who was clearly nursing an injury in his attempt to get to first. Lee then led off the Spirits half of the inning with a bloop single to left and advanced to second when Molldrem grounded out. David Tipton then drew a walk and the Spirits were in business with two on and nobody out, however Harvey found a crafty recipe of pitches to strike out both Chris Lewis and Brant Finchum to kill the inning.
Molldrem set down the Cardinals for the third straight inning with a pair of strikeouts in the top half of the third and the Spirits again made some noise, but were unable to plate a run. Third baseman, John Showalter started the inning off with a single up the middle and then stole second after Earl German squared to bunt and pulled back. Showalter froze momentarily between first and second and the relay from the catcher to first and then onto second found Showalter’s back side and he was safe at second. German proceeded to complete the picture-perfect sacrifice but just in front of the plate down the first base line and the Spirits had a runner on third with one out. Tragedy then struck for the Spirits after Brade lined a shot straight up the middle and into the glove of Harvey in his follow-through to home plate. Harvey was able to easily relay to third to get Showalter who had made a step toward home on the contact and the double-play once again spoiled an opportunity for a Spirits run.
Heading into the fourth at 0-0, Molldrem was able to set the Cards down in order again after getting Rusty Holmes to fly out and striking out Fought and Lowry. The Spirits found some pay dirt in the bottom half of the inning when Bilgere led things off with a single. Brade replaced Bilgere at first as a courtesy runner and promptly stole second and then reached third on a single by Sipila. Mahalik followed with another single and the Spirits were on the board, up 1 to 0. Lee followed with another picture-perfect bunt in front of the plate and toward third base, but was able to beat out the play on the ball and bases were loaded on the infield single. The Cardinals then turned to veteran pitcher, Troy Key as Harvey had to exit the game due to aggravation of an existing groin injury. Molldrem welcomed Key to the game with a sacrifice fly ball that was good enough to score Sipila and the Spirits were up, 2 to 0. Tipton followed with another base on balls and with bases loaded, Key was able to strike out Lewis for out number two. It appeared that the Cardinals might exit the inning with a small amount of damage as Key was able to get ahead of Finchum with a ball and two strikes, but Finchum battled with another foul ball and then took the next pitch down the third base line to score both Mahalik and Lee. The two out, RBI single put the Spirits up 4 to 0 and Key was able to retire Showalter on a fly ball to end the scoring rally.
Molldrem retired all three hitters in order again in the fifth and it appeared the Spirits were poised for additional insurance when Brade singled with one out. Brade then took off for second base and appeared to have his second stolen base of the game, but was called out by the field umpire when it appeared he had easily beat the throw and the tag. Bilgere followed with a single to leave one on with two out, but Key was able to get Sipila on a ground ball to end the inning.
The Cardinals finally broke the offensive ice in the top half of the sixth when Guy Koenig, a member of the Spirits (45+) squad, was able to beat out an infield single that dropped just behind the mound and in front of short and third. Koenig advanced to second when Molldrem attempted a pick-off move to first, which was mishandled by German. Molldrem then struck out Eric Sumrow, but Mike Anderson was able to reach after being hit by pitch. With two on and one out, Molldrem proceeded to strike out the next two hitters to end the Cardinals rally.
Mahalik and Molldrem each added a single in the sixth, but the Cardinals defense was able to keep the Spirits from tacking on any insurance and the game headed into the seventh and final inning. Holmes was able to lead off with a single to start the Cardinals seventh, but Molldrem went on to strike out the next three hitters he faced and the Spirits were victorious advancing to the NTABL Veterans League Championship. The Spirits will await semi-final action from the Astros vs. Modoc and the winner of that game challenging the Cardinals for an opportunity to play the Spirits next Thursday night. First pitch will be 7:00PM at Reverchon Park in Uptown, Dallas. The team that plays the Spirits will need two wins to upset the Spirits for the championship.