(June 21, 2018 – Dallas, TX) The Thunderbirds have been at the top spot since the season kicked off for NTABL Veterans League baseball in 2018, but the defending champion, Spirits (35+) squad had a say in the current season’s outcome Thursday night and used the opportunity to pull just a half game from first place honors after winning by a score of 11 to 5.
Kirk Sipila and Jason Bottenfield led the Spirits offense with a pair of hits apiece, scoring once, and each adding a pair of RBIs s well. Bottenfield added a double to the box score as did Travis Hitzeman and John Mahalik, and timely hitting combined with big fourth and sixth innings proved to be the difference. Starting pitcher, Duane Aponte allowed just 2 earned runs off of 5 hits, while going the distance and striking out 3 and walking 3. Four defensive errors made the game closer than it may have needed to be, however the Thunderbirds have put the Veterans League on notice showing that they will be a part of the conversation come playoff time.
The Thunderbirds struck first after Brian Synatzske drew a base on balls and scored moments later after Brent Smerczynski doubled off of Aponte. Aponte rallied to get Fabian Mendive to ground out and Brad Bode to fly out, but Smerczynski was able to make his way home after Nathaniel Larmon reached on an error by Spirits third baseman, John Showalter. The Spirits stopped the bleeding after retiring Jody Nicewonger, but the Birds added another pair of runs in the top half of the fourth to make it 4 to 0 after Bode singled and Larmon drew a base-on-balls. Nicewonger flew out, but Justin Toone also singled to load the bases. Felipe Luna followed by reaching on an error by Mahalik at short and it appeared the Spirits might get out of the inning after Aponte struck out Greg Shiro. Mark Adams battled Aponte, however, and after 7 pitches was able to draw a full count walk to score Larmon and the Thunderbirds led the game 4 to 0.
Enter the late-game firing Spirits offense. The Spirits retaliated with a 6-run fourth to gain the lead for good after Cliff Brade led things off with a single and later stole second. Bottenfield singled to score Brade and also swiped second. He later scored after Sipila singled and then made his way to third on a double by Hitzeman. Mahalik followed with a double to score both Sipila and Hitzeman, but Smerczynski rallied to get Lewis on strikes. Brant Finchum followed with a single good enough to score Mahalik and Eric McPherson flew out to leave one on with two out. The Spirits offense wasn’t finished as Showalter followed up with a single to push Finchum to second and Aponte singled to score Finchum. Jonathan Duran looked to continue the Spirits damage by drawing a walk to load the bases, but Smerczynski settled and struck out Brade to end the inning after the Spirits completed batting through the order.
The Thunderbirds cut the lead to 6 to 5 after Toone led the sixth inning off with a double but reached third on another Spirits fielding error. He later scored on a ground out and the Thunderbirds were back in it. The short rally didn’t last however, as the Spirits tacked on another 5 runs in the bottom of the inning after McPherson and Showalter drew a one out walks. McPherson advanced to second on a passed ball prior to Showalter’s free pass and then later scored when Aponte reached on a Thunderbirds fielding error. Showalter was able to score on a passed ball as well and Aponte followed after Duran singled. Brade also drew a walk and Aponte made his way home after Bottenfield crushed an RBI double that pushed Duran to third. Sipila wrapped up the Spirits scoring after an RBI ground out that scored Duran and the game finished when Hitzeman flew out and the two hour time limit for the game lapsed.
The Spirits finished with 12 hits on the evening and left 7 on base, while the Thunderbirds left 8 on after being led by Toone and Smerczynski offensively. The victory pushes the Spirits record to 7-2, a half game behind the Thunderbirds at 8-2 atop the NTABL Veterans League standings.
“Great effort by the guys tonight,” commented skipper, Shawn Lee who was unable to attend the game. “The guys were texting me updates and I wasn’t suprised to find out we were down 4 to 0. The Thunderbirds are solid and the squad they’ve had in previous seasons as the Brewers were pretty darn good as well. But we found a way. Seems we kicked it around a few times, but the guys have a tendency to hang in there. I wish I had half the patience as the rest of this team. They just don’t get rattled. And we seem to always have a late offensive start, but when that fire starts man, it burns! Solid effort from Aponte and great hitting from the fellas against a solid lefty.”
The Spirits return to action next Thursday night as they visit the Astros at Graham Field. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30PM and you can click here for schedule details, to obtain directions to the game, or to listen and watch live, online!