(November 10, 2020 – Euless, TX) The best-of-three series in DFW-ABA League playoff action for round two featuring the #5 seeded Spirits (40+) squad squaring off against the #2 seeded Rattlers got started Tuesday night on Legends Field at Texas Star. As Fall temperatures began to settle in for the nearly mid-November playoff game, so did the Rattlers bats.
Rattlers hitters found gaps and timely hitting and used that to their advantage to rattle Spirits starting pitcher, Jason Bottenfield and the Spirits defense. The Rattlers were able to square off on some big hits at times when it mattered and a back and forth battle between the squads was underway. The Rattlers welcomed back their starting pitcher, Christopher Brooks from a recent hand injury and the teams went to battle going back and forth on the scoreboard in a contest that seemingly appeared could be anyone’s game.
After the Spirits went in order in the top half of the first, it was the Rattlers who took a first bite at scoring. Lead off hitter, Marcos Vidal III grounded out but Ravi Malick quickly ignited the team’s dugout after crushing a triple to the right-center field wall. Bottenfield refocused to strike out Justin Harris, but an RBI single from Aaron Lowe put the Rattlers on the board, 1 to 0 before Daron Wilkinson went down swinging to end the inning.
The Spirits then rallied for a pair of runs in the second inning after Travis Hitzeman and Shawn Lee both singled to start the inning. Dan Sosa flew out and Bobby Kornhauser wore a pitch from Brooks to load the bases for Stacy Scott. Scott settled in for an 11-pitch at-bat that resulted in a win after he drew an RBI base-on-balls to score Hitzeman. Brant Finchum followed with an RBI sacrifice fly to center field that allowed Lee to score to give the Spirits a 2 to 1 lead before David Tipton went down on swings to end the frame.
Bottenfield was able to get the Rattlers in order in the bottom half of the second and the Spirits offense picked up right where it had left off in the third after John Hefner singled and Eric McPherson drew a walk. Bottenfield went down on a controversial strike three call, but Kirk Sipila played hero with a double to the gap that allowed both Hefner and McPherson to score. Hitzeman followed with a single, but Lee’s check-swing grounder to the right side killed the inning as the Rattlers were able easily spin two and kill the Spirits rally.
The 4 to 1 lead didn’t last long, unfortunately as the Rattlers bats came alive in the bottom half of the inning after Stephen Smith reached on a one-out single. Vidal was hit by a pitch to put two on with one out and it remained so after Malick reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Smith at third for the second out of the inning. Hopeful to get out of a small jam, things got ugly and fast as Harris belted a double to the left-center field wall that allowed Vidal and Malick to score easily. Lowe followed up with his second RBI single of the game and before Wilkinson flew out to end the inning the game was tied, 4 to 4.
Sosa and Kornhauser both grounded out to start the Spirits fourth, but Scott kept the inning alive with a gap shot to right field. Scott, who has been plagued with a leg muscle injury did his best to stretch the hit into a double, but Malick was able to recover the ball at the warning track and threw a strike to put Scott out at second to end the inning. Momentum appeared to be building for the Rattlers and it spilled over into the bottom half of the inning after James Bolton reached on a one-out single. Bolton swiped second and then advanced to third on a single from Ryan Wettengel. Wettengel then took off for second base and Hefner, the Spirits catcher chose to try gunning him down rather than taking the safe play. The unfortunate result was that the throw was short and Scott wasn’t able to recover the throw well enough to catch and return a throw home to an awaiting Bolton, who took off immediately upon Henfer’s attempt to second base and scored easily. Scott Rodges eventually went down swinging, but Smith kept the inning going with an RBI single that put the Rattlers up 6 to 4 before Vidal grounded out to end the inning.
The Spirits offense remained poised however, and in the fifth it was Finchum playing the role of lead off man aboard as he drew a walk on four straight pitches. Tipton went down looking on an egregious call from the home plate up who was considering ankles as part of the strike zone most of the night. That would come into play later in the game. Finchum was able to move to second on a single by Hefner and another single by McPherson loaded the bases with one out. Bottenfield patiently drew a 5-pitch walk to score Finchum and the Spirits were down a single run. Sipila made up for this run by reaching on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Bottenfield but allowed Hefner to cross the dish. Hitzeman looked for an opportunity to play hero as he had most of the season, but Brooks was able to get Hitzeman to ground out to end the Spirits half of the inning with the game tied at 6.
Malick picked up his second hit of the game to lead off the Rattlers sixth with a single and was able to advance on a Spirits fielding error and the error was exacerbated after Harris picked up his second straight double on the night, good enough to score Malick and to give the Rattlers a 7 to 6 edge that would ultimately prove to be the game winner. Bottenfield was able to get the next three hitters in order and the Rattlers then turned to harder throwing, Todd McClurg to close up shop. The move proved worthy as the Spirits went in order with Lee grounding out and both Sosa and Kornhauser falling victim to strikeouts.
The Rattlers made some additional noise in the sixth after Bolton drew a walk. Wettengel grounded out but Bolton was able to advance to second safely and Rodges became Bottenfield’s second hit-by-pitch victim to put two runners aboard. Smith reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Rodges as second and allowed Bolton third, but Vidal went down looking to end the inning.
As the game moved to the seventh and final inning, the cliche down a run in the last inning story revealed itself and the Spirits looked for opportunity and appeared to find it. Scott was able to reach on an error after the Rattlers dropped an easy infield fly that put the lead runner aboard. Finchum followed up with a single and both the tying run and go ahead runs were both aboard. Tipton settled in looking for a hero opportunity and unfortunately found out that history repeats itself as he was once again called out on an awful strike three call. Tipton battled with 5 foul balls and drew a 3-2 count and as the payoff pitch drew close to the ground, Tipton dropped his bat and took off toward first as the dugout cheered what appeared to be a bases loading walk. The home plate umpire had other plans however, gleefully punching Tipton out 5-steps out of the batter’s box. Although some of the wind was drawn out of the Spirits sails, a few moments later it was the Titanic plunging into the cold, dark depths of the ocean. The iceberg came in the form of an easy 6-4-3 double-play turned on Hefner by the Rattlers defense that killed the inning and ended the game with a 7 to 6 win by the snakes.
“Tough one to lose tonight,” Lee commented after the game. ” They used opportunities and we didn’t. That’s the difference in the game. There’s always moments during a game that seem to have a large impact and tonight that was great hitting by the Rattlers and for us, sadly a few poor calls at the dish in my opinion. A guy fouls off five pitches with laser focus with the game on the line and you’re going to take the bat out of his hand? Get the hell off the field. All whining aside, that team can hit the ball. Brooks and McClurg did a great job pitching against us and their defense was solid. A few of us, self included, missed opportunities where we had a runner at third. That’s a beat down. Bottenfield pitched a solid game despite some time off and we didn’t get him enough runs. But we still have life. They’re going to be hard to beat but we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
The team will return to action Wednesday night to try to even the series at one game with a 6:30PM first pitch slated for Legends Field. Click here for schedule details. Should the team win, a second game and doubleheader will occur to determine a winner for the championship.