(November 3, 2020 – Euless, TX) The weather was in full cooperation, but unfortunately for the Spirits (40+) squad, putting the game away was not. The Spirits fell to the Drillers in their best-of-three playoff series and now trail 1-0 as they look to stay alive in DFW-ABA League playoff action. The Spirits blew a 7 to 4 lead and weren’t able to bounce back after the Drillers tied the game at 7 to 7 and then stole the go-ahead run in the bottom half of the fifth inning before the league’s 2-hour time limit came into play.
Veteran left-hander, Dan Sosa took the stage for the Spirits on the mound and delivered 3 solid innings of work, allowing 2 earned off of 5 hits while walking and striking out 3. It was the Spirits offense that took early control of the game in the top half of the first inning when Eric McPherson led off the game with a single. McPherson stole second and just like that the Spirits had a runner in scoring position. Kirk Sipila was able to draw a base-on-balls to put two on with nobody out, but Shawn Lee didn’t take advantage as he chased a pair of high fastballs and went down on swings. Drillers starter, Mike Ellis then went after and was able to take out Sosa on strikes and it appeared the two lead runners aboard may be wasted but a hard single from Bobby Kornhauser scored both runners and the Spirits had a 2 to 0 lead before Stacy Scott flew out to end the Spirits half of the inning.
The Drillers earned a pair of walks in the bottom half of the inning, but the Spirits defense along with a strikeout from Sosa helped keep any runners from crossing the plate. The Spirits again started hot in the top half of the second after Brant Finchum singled and John Hefner drew a walk, but David Tipton lined out to hold the runners and McPherson grounded out and the Drillers were able to make it a pair of outs by getting Finchum at third to end the inning.
The Drillers then rebounded for a run in the bottom half of the second after their lead off hitter singled and later scored on a double by Nelson Alvarez. They continued to make a little noise after Scott Swingle and Augie Guzman both flew out when Michael Tedder and Ellis both reached on a single and a base-on-balls. Sosa was able to refocus to get the next Drillers hitter to ground out and the Spirits held a marginal 2 to 1 lead heading into the third. Sipila led off the Spirits third with a single and Lee replaced him after reaching on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Sipila at second. Lee then took an egregious lead that Ellis didn’t like and the Drillers left-handed pitcher made a move to try to pick Lee off and the play resulted in an errant throw that allowed Lee to race all the way to third. Three pitches into an at-bat from Sosa, the Drillers catcher proceeded to make an errant throw back to the pitcher and Lee was able to race to the dish before the Drillers middle infield could pick up and relay the ball him and the Spirits were up, 3 to 1. Sosa eventually went down swinging and Korhauser grounded out to end the inning.
The Drillers were then able to locate their offense as they rallied for 4 runs in the bottom half of the third. Jeff Peck reached on an error and Chris Allen singled. The next Drillers hitter wore a pitch to load the bases with nobody out and a long single by Alvarez scored both Peck and Allen. Swingle went down on strikes and Guzman followed with a single to reload the bases. Michael Tedder went down on swings, but Ellis kept the inning alive with a single to score both Justice and Alvarez and the Drillers were up, 5 to 3. Guzman tried to make it 6 to 3 for the Drillers after the next hitter followed up with a single, but Tipton, the Spirits center fielder came up throwing and was able to put out Guzman at the dish to end the inning.
The Spirits were then able to conjure up a rally of their own in the top half of the fourth inning after Scott and Finchum led things off with back-to-back singles. Hefner drew a walk to load the bases and Ellis began to struggle a bit with his command and Tipton also drew a walk, RBI-style to score Scott. McPherson followed with an RBI single to keep the merry-go-round rolling, but Ellis recovered with a big strikeout, getting Sipila, one of the team’s best hitters to swing at a pitch out of the zone. Hefner was then able to score on a wild pitch during Lee’s at-bat and Lee was also able to draw a walk to load the bases once again. Sosa was then able to reach on a fielder’s choice and double-play attempt from the Drillers that sacrificed Lee at second, but Tipton was able to score to give the Spirits a 7 to 5 lead before Kornhauser grounded out.
The Spirits then turned to Kornhauser in relief of Sosa in the bottom half of the inning and the Drillers welcomed him with a pair of runs to tie the game. After Peck grounded out, Allen singled and Justice followed with a double that allowed Allen to score. Justice was able to move to third on the attempt to get Allen at the plate and three pitches later, Alvarez singled to score Justice. Swingle was then hit by a pitch to put two runners aboard, but Kornhauser was able to strike out Guzman and Tedder eventually grounded out to end the inning with the game tied at 7 to 7.
The Spirits went scoreless in the fifth and in the bottom half of the inning, Kornhauser walked Ellis who was replaced with Tedder as a courtesy runner. Tedder was able to advance to second base on a ground out by the next Drillers hitter and for some reason, Korhauser and the Spirits infield allowed Tedder to easily steal third to put the go ahead run 90 feet away. The move cost the Spirits as Peck grounded out on the next pitch and Tedder was able to give the Drillers an 8 to 7 lead. Allen went down on swings to end the inning but the Spirits were down a run with time set to expire, making the sixth inning the game’s final frame.
Ellis was able to get McPherson on strikes to start off the Spirits sixth, but Sipila drew a walk to keep the game alive. Lee flew out to record out number two and Sosa followed suit with a fly out and the game was over.
“This was a tough one to lose,” Lee commented after the game. “We had a solid lead and I feel like we pissed it away a little. Credit the Drillers for hitting well at opportune times but we had options for not allowing them to steal bases, or what I would call free bases because we did nothing to try to stop it. You can’t just turn your back to runners who are on base. You have to hold them and attempt to throw them out. We didn’t do that. But for the most part our defense was solid. Only one error fielding tonight, but the free trips to first killed us. Five walks and I think nearly every one of them scored. Hopefully we’ll find the right recipe for game two.”
After a short break, the Spirits went on to play game two of the best-of-three series down 1-0.