(September 4, 2018 – Plano, TX) The team had a much easier path ahead for them when they entered the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday night against the Dallas Cardinals in NTABL Veterans League playoff game action at Graham Field. The math was simple. Get six more outs, retain the lead you’ve achieved and you’re in the league championship game facing an opponent that will have to beat you twice to earn the league crown. Instead, the team selected to take the hard road and will need three more wins in order to call themselves back-to-back champions.
The Spirits (35+) allowed the number one seeded Cardinals, a team with their backs against the wall at that moment in time to scratch and claw their way back with a 4-run rally to overtake the lead and shutdown the spirits of the ghosts. The rally carried the team to a 6 to 5 victory at the expense of the Spirits, who up to that point in the game had put on a solid performance.
The Spirits jumped on Cardinals starter, Brian Underhill quickly out of the gate. It turned out later, the hard-throwing right-hander was having some issues due to an undisclosed injury and the Spirits offense capitalized on the opportunity. Cliff Brade led the game off with a single and swiped second base and later made his way to third when Jason Bottenfield was able to reach on an error. Bottenfield stole second to put two runners in scoring position for the team’s best hitter, Kirk Sipila. Sipila also drew a base-on-balls and some outstanding patience from Patrick Bilgere put the Spirits up, 1 to 0 after Bilgere battled a 9-pitch at-bat to draw an RBI walk himself. John Mahalik followed with a solid fly ball to left that allowed Bottenfield to score on the RBI sacrifice fly and a single by Brant Finchum once again loaded the bases for the Spirits. The Cardinals had seen enough of Underhill and turned to Troy Key to come in and stop the early bleeding. As it would turn out, that decision would ultimately be the best decision the Cardinals made all evening. Key led off by facing Shawn Lee and Lee was able to reach on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Sipila at the plate for the second out of the inning. Chris Lewis came through with two outs however, after recording 2 RBIs on a shot to left-center field that put the Spirits up, 4 to 0. Key was able to get Eric McPherson to fly out to end the hot start for the ghosts.
Despite allowing a few base runners to reach in the bottom half of the inning, Bottenfield, the Spirits starter and his defense were able to leave the first unscathed and capitalized a second time in the top half of the second after Brade drew a one-out walk. Brade once again stole second to put himself in scoring position. Bottenfield followed with a ground ball to short and appeared he might have an infield single, however Cardinals shortstop, Jerry Gamez made a veteran move to throw the ball to third, where the speedy Brade had broken to. Brade would have had the base easily, but instead overran the bag and was tagged out easily on the 6-5 put out. Bottenfield was able to reach on the fielder’s choice and as it would turn out, the run would later prove to be a huge loss for the team. Sipila followed with a double to the left field wall that easily scored Bottenfield and the Spirits were cruising with a 5 to 0 lead. Key was able to get Bilgere on strikes to end the inning.
The Cardinals rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom half of the second to make the game a lot more interesting. Dustin Harrison singled and advanced to second after Mark Tierny singled. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch and Bottenfield rebounded to strike out Mark Carrasco. Juan Mollinedo grounded out on a play that allowed Harrison to score and Tierny to move to third and a single by Jason New gave the Cardinals their second run. Kevin Fought also singled and both runners again moved on another wild pitch, but Bottenfield was able to strike out Joe Lowry to end the inning. The Spirits lead was 5 to 2 after two complete.
From this point forward, both Bottenfield and Key were dealing. Both defenses made plays and the game awaited for someone to seize opportunity, and unfortunately for the Spirits that came from the direction of the Cardinals dugout. Six outs away from advancing to the championship game, Gamez drew a lead off walk and a courtesy runner allowed for an easy swipe of second. The runner for Gamez then scores on a single down the right field line by Bosco and the score is now, 5 to 3. Guy Koenig hits one to first and a momentary bobble leads to the out at first, but the lead runner advances to second. Harrison then doubles to score Bosco’s courtesy runner and the score is now, 5 to 4. Harrison was able to advance on another wild pitch and a single by Tierney scores Harrison and the game is tied at 5. Bottenfield was able to strike out Carrasco to give the Spirits an ounce of hope, but Tierny advances to second when another pitch gets past the Spirits catcher. Bottenfield gets ahead of Mollinedo with a count of 1-2, but Mollinedo fights off another pitch for a single and the Cardinals are up, 6 to 5. Bottenfield was able to get New to ground out, but the game of merry-go-round would prove to be fatal for the Spirits as they fail to recover in the seventh.
Brade led the inning off with a single, but the Cardinals were busy keeping an eye on him. Brade was patient at first, thinking about making a move to second and a few pick off attempts by Key kept Brade close to first. On the second pitch delivered to Bottenfield, the Cardinals pitched out and the picture-perfect throw home and to second easily picked off Brade and the Spirits had one out. Bottenfield then popped out to the infield and Sipila’s soft line drive to the left side was caught by Gamez to end the game.
“I really don’t know what to say,” commented Lee following his team’s loss. “I can’t (expletive) about anything when I’m part of the problem. I personally did nothing offensively for this team tonight so I have to look in the mirror first before I can point any fingers. We played pretty well for the most part. We failed to make a few plays and to be champs you have to make plays. Our Achilles heal is allowing runners second base when they get on. It’s almost automatic. That killed us in the sixth and it’s a combination of bad timing, luck, who knows. This one hurts. We may as well came here and lost 10-0 so we could prep for a back door entrance to the big game. But we came and fell short. The Cardinals are a hell of a baseball team. They earned it. I thought Jason (Bottenfield) pitched pretty damn good too. He doesn’t deserve a loss. But our offense was missing in action. We can hit 80 miles per hour any day, but when someone can toss us junk, we fold. Credit Troy Key for the win tonight. He pitched a great game.”
The loss leaves a difficult road ahead of the Spirits in the event they want to be champions. They’ll host Modoc tomorrow night at McInnish Park, Field #11 in Carrollton for a chance to take on the Cardinals once again. In the event of a win tomorrow night, the team will have to beat the Cardinals twice to earn walnut and bronze starting Tuesday in the leagues championship game. First pitch is slated for 7:00PM and you can click here for schedule details, to obtain driving directions to the game, or to download the iScore Central app to watch and listen to the game live, online.