(June 8, 2017 – Plano, TX) Offense was available in wholesale fashion this past Thursday night as the Spirits (35+) unleashed against Astros pitching. The club put up 16 runs on 20 hits and left 13 runners stranded in what for the most part, was a shutout that ended with a slim addition of respect to the box score in the game’s final inning.
Craig Molldrem led the way defensively by allowing only one hit, a tiny dribbler that made it’s way down the chalk line toward third as Steve Smith squeaked in with the only hit against the Spirits hard-baller. Molldrem went on to strike out 7 Astros without allowing any free passes and it was only after the Spirits relieved Molldrem that Astros bats seemed to come alive.
The Spirits opened up the scoring in the first after two outs, when Kirk Sipila and Shawn Lee both singled. Lee’s single pushed Sipila to third and both runners scored after Chris Lewis crushed one of his two doubles on the night to right-center field. Molldrem followed with another single to score Lewis, and Will Nash broke loose on the evening with a single to left, which would turn out to be one of his four hits on the evening. The Astros were able to get Jonathan Duran to ground out and after the first half of the first inning, the Spirits were up 3 to 0. Molldrem promptly struck out two of the three hitters he faced, setting down Kevin Hull, Chris Brooks, and Aaron Lowe in order. The Spirits added an additional pair of runs in the second after John Showalter doubled and moved to third on a ground out from Patrick Bilgere. Brant Finchum also grounded out, but Astros pitcher, Dan Zier struggled with getting pitches over the plate and walked David Tipton to set up two on with two out. Cliff Brade then followed by hitting a triple to left-center field to score both runners and after one and half complete, the Spirits had a 5 to 0 lead.
In the third inning, Molldrem drew a free pass after being hit by a Zier pitch, and then scored after Nash picked up his second hit of the evening with a double. Nash was able to score easily after Duran squared up and sent a Zier fastball deep into the night and over the left field wall for his first home run as a Dallas Spirit. Singles by Showalter, Bilgere, and Finchum led to two additional runs for the ghosts and after two and half, the lead was up to 10 to 0. The squad added four more runs in the fourth and then two additional runs in the sixth to lead 16 to 0 before the Astros finally showed up offensively.
“Games like this can be hard to play,” commented Lee following the game. “Unfortunately, this one was over in the first. I won’t grasp at straws for what the other club is thinking about, but based on the conversations and talk on the field, we seemed to be competing against a team that simply didn’t care. It’s times like that when we have to challenge ourselves and compete against the game itself, and honestly, my guys did just that. Each one of these games is a prep for the playoffs and you have to find ways to compete and get better. I’m thankful that my guys continued to work hard each inning.”
The irony of the finish is that the game was called by the umpires for a mercy rule, however the NTABL Veterans League doesn’t claim such a rule until playoff time. With minutes left on the clock in the bottom of the fifth, the teams continued to play and that’s when the Spirits tacked on the two additional runs.
“Craig was nearing his pitch goal so we decided to get Duran some time on the hill,” continued Lee. “Jonathan was a serious asset last year defensively and we hadn’t seen too many opportunities to get him time this season. Seems the Astros liked the move as they got on him a bit, but I know Jon well enough that it won’t shake him. That move was clearly an opportunity for him to burn some rust off and he did fine. They’re a great hitting team, we don’t doubt that. But fortunately we were able to buckle down and finish this one off.”
Lee’s reference was to the game’s final half of the sixth inning where the Astros rallied for 5 runs on 5 hits off of Duran, including a grand slam home run by Trent Feekner. After James Schreiber singled to score Daron Wilkinson, Duran was able to strike out Justin Norris to end the game and to seal the lopsided 16 to 5 victory. The win raises the Spirits record to 9-1 as the team moves into the final stretch of the 2017 summer season atop the NTABL Veterans League Standings. The Spirits return to action next Thursday night as they visit the Royals at Jesuit College Preparatory for a 6:30PM first pitch.