(May 23, 2017 – Dallas, TX) Tuesday night’s early game at Reverchon Park in Uptown, Dallas featured what record-wise, seemed to be a lopsided affair. The Dallas Spirits Open (18+) squad came into the game in sole possession of second place in the NTABL Open American League with a record of 10-3. The Braves on the other hand, entered the game in last place with a record of 0-10-1. As the game would pan out, the teams appeared to be very evenly matched for the night’s contest.
The Spirits turned to starting pitcher Thomas Stoltz, making his first start in two weeks and Stoltz appeared sharp at the game’s start. The Braves managed to nick him for a run in the top of the first inning when Alvin Byrd doubled in a run, however Stoltz was able to stave off any additional Braves offense during his five innings of work. The Spirits followed suit with a lack of offense throughout most of the game. Braves pitcher, Christopher Strong actually looked strong through the first two innings of play, but the ghosts were able to muster up some scoring during the bottom of the third inning. The scoring began with catcher, Mitch Abeita and designated hitter, Duane Aponte both reaching on walks. Nate Martinez, running for Abeita, was able to advance to third base on a bad throw from Braves catcher, Matt Topps during an attempted steal of second during Aponte’s at bat. With a runner in scoring position, Stoltz made a plate appearance looking to aid his own cause. Strong quickly got ahead of Stoltz, 0-2, but Stoltz was able to battle and after fouling a pitch off he followed by lining a hard, RBI single up the middle to drive in Martinez and advance Aponte to second. With the game now tied 1 to 1, the Spirits looked to part-time player and full-time fireman, JP Seider. Seider wasted no time bringing his lifetime role of hero onto the field of play by flaring the first pitch he saw just deep enough into right field to score Aponte from second and to push Stoltz to third. Seider advanced to second on the throw to the plate and the Spirits looked to be in business with a 2 to 1 lead and two runners in scoring position with nobody out. However, it was the Braves defense that rose to the occasion in what would turn out to be a game of Chess heading into the final innings. Strong and his Braves defense were able to set the next three Spirits hitters down in order after getting Adam Brown to strikeout, Cliff Brade to line out, and Justin Anderson to go down looking to end the rally and the inning.
The bottom of the fourth found the Spirits adding a sliver of insurance to their slim lead when second baseman, Mike Werner hit a single to right field. The bouncing ball took a bad hop to get past the glove of the Braves right fielder, and Werner was able to hustle to third on the error. Collin Stacha followed with a sacrifice fly to center to increase the Spirits lead to 3 to 1.
Spirits manager, John Showalter then turned to his closer, Teddy Croft in the top half of the sixth. Croft was able to set down each of the Braves hitters in order and Strong followed suit for the Braves half of the inning, returning the favor by setting down each of the Spirits he faced. This setup what appeared might be a final shutdown inning for the Spirits, however the Braves had an alternate ending in mind. In the top half of the seventh, Croft retired Braves third baseman, Cameron Jones with a strikeout. That brought up the top half of the Braves order and lead off hitter, Bilal Musaddiq. Musaddiq took a 1-2 pitch to left field for a single and the Braves had something started with one on and one out. Mike Rodgers then followed with a single of his own and the Braves had two runners aboard. Croft appeared poised to get out of the jam, however Braves manager, Chad McCune drew a full count walk to load the bases. With bases juiced, slugger Alvin Byrd approached the plate with 2 hits on his resume for the game. Byrd was able to fight off several pitches before connecting on his third hit on the day to drive in Musaddiq and to cut the Spirits lead down to 3-2.
Showalter commented on the play following the game. “The guy (Byrd) is a hitting machine. He has very quick hands and he was able to make the appropriate adjustments on the off-speed stuff. We would have loved to have been able to pitch around him in that situation, but with the bases loaded and nowhere to put him, we had to pitch to him.”
With the bases still loaded an only one down, catcher Matt Topps hit a ground ball at Showalter covering at third base. Showalter made the safe and smart play by firing home to Abeita to cut off the tying run from scoring. The fielder’s choice cut the Braves comeback to two outs, but bases still loaded. Braves shortstop, Chris McHatton made his way up for hero opportunity and following a very patient at-bat, McHatton drew a free pass and the Braves tied the game 3 to 3.
“I hated leaving Teddy out there for that inning,” continued Showalter reflecting on the scenario after the game. “We just didn’t have additional pitching available to make a change once things got busy on the bases. I made it clear to him that he was going to have to bring it home for us and he really battled out there.”
Croft was able to regroup, however, setting Brady Colby down on three pitches to bring up the game’s final half inning of play. Entering the bottom of the seventh inning with the game tied at 3 to 3, the Spirits were facing either their first tie of the season or an opportunity for walk-off victory. Michael Werner had first dibs at for the victory tour and started by lining a 1-0 pitch into left-center field for a single. Stacha was next in the spotlight and quickly worked the count to 1-1 before he hitting a ball to left-center. Werner, uncertain the ball was going to drop held halfway between first and second momentarily, but then shifted gears when the ball fell to the turf. Werner was able to race to third and Stacha coasted into second with a double. This provided an opportunity for team skipper and third baseman, John Showalter to play hero, but the Braves took the old fashioned route by intentionally walking Showalter to load the bases and to setup the force play at any base.
With the pressure squarely on the drawn-in Braves infield, enter the always dangerous, Teddy Croft. Croft wasted no time by stroking the first pitch he saw sharply on the ground to the Braves shortstop. The ball was hit sharply enough through the drawn-in shortstop’s glove and sealed the walk-off victory for the Spirits.
Following the game, Croft commented on the play that led his team to victory. “I had seen only two pitches at that point in the game because the pitcher had piped me two fastballs in my first two at-bats, both of which I hit pretty hard. So I was waiting on it to happen again and thankfully, it did. I wasn’t able to put the type of contact on the ball that I had wanted to, but with nobody out and the bases loaded, all we needed was a ball in play to force them to make a play. Fortunately for us, they didn’t and we were able to sneak out with a win.”
The Spirits will enjoy an off-day over Memorial Day Weekend as the Nation reflects on its lost heroes. The team’s next match-up will be a rematch that no doubt will have playoff implications as they visit the Texas Renegades at McKinnish Park Field 11, Tuesday at 6:45 pm. Click here for schedule details or to watch the game live, online.