(June 13, 2022 – Plano, TX) There were a couple of places to point a finger if you were trying to figure out why the Spirits (45+) squad didn’t pick up the win Monday night. Despite a solid contest against a friendly foe, and solid team, the Spirits had numerous chances to walk away with a win Monday night in NTABL Masters action that featured the league’s top two teams.
Kirk Sipila struggled a bit with his command in his role of starting pitcher in the first inning, and despite issues hitting the strike zone, his defense stood behind him and the ghosts were simply a few made plays away from a good win over a good team. Key phrase; a few made plays.
The Cardinals picked up 3 runs in the first inning that essentially decided the game’s outcome. Sipila walked the bases loaded to kick off the top half of the first but the Spirits almost got out of it. John Mahalik reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Joe Lowry at the plate after a ground ball hit to Sipila allowed for Kirk to toss to Lester Bedford at home to record the first out. Jerry Gamez followed with a grounder to third that forced Mike Sopocy to go to first to record the out at the cost of Kevin Fought scoring. James Gardner then followed with a medium line drive up the middle that scored Jerry Anderson, but the Spirits had an opportunity to get out of the inning after center fielder, David Tipton threw an absolute strike to Bedford at the plate. Bedford caught the ball and began his tag a little too early, losing the ball in the swing of the glove and Mahalik was safe at home. Sipila was able to strikeout Chris Cec, but the damage of three walks and a missed opportunity equated into a 3 to 0, Cardinals lead.
Anderson, the Cardinals starting pitcher was able to get through the Spirits quietly in the bottom of the inning despite a single by Sipila, who was left aboard. The Cardinals then added a pair of runs in the second inning after Jason New and Mark Tierney both singled to start the inning. Brent Smerczynski bunted over the runners, and a ground out by Chris Foster allowed New to cross the plate. Juan Mollinedo followed with an RBI single to score Tierney and to make it 5 to 0, Cardinals before Sipila was able to get Lowry to fly out.
The Spirits scratched their way back in during the bottom half of the inning after Sopocy drew a walk. Brian Hackney followed with a line drive single and the Spirits were in business. German bunted over both runners and a walk to Tipton loaded the bags for Shawn Hunt. Hunt followed with an RBI single to score both Sopocy and Hackney, and the lead was cut to, 5 to 2. Hunt swiped second base and a ground out by Bedford allowed Tipton to score. Chris Allen drew a walk, but Eric McPherson flew out to end the inning.
Down 5 to 3, the Spirits gave up another run in the third after Anderson drew a one-out walk and stole second. A wild pitch allowed Anderson to move to third and Sipila then walked Mahalik. Before Mahalik could attempt a swipe of second, Sipila made an errant throw to first and Anderson was able to score easily to give the Cardinals a 6 to 3 advantage. Sipila then struck out Gamez, but Gardner kept the inning alive after reaching on an bad call that should have had him out by at least a step. The call was quickly erased after what appeared to be a makeup call on a steal attempt on the next play. Gardner took off for second and Bedford threw a strike to second to attempt the pick off. Hunt gather the ball and slipped a bit, swiping at Gardner who appeared to safely reach second. The field ump saw a tag and called him out and things appeared to even out as the Spirits were able to get off of the field.
Things remained the same until the bottom of the fifth inning with the league’s 2-hour game time limit coming into play. Sipila reached on a one-out single and Shawn Lee followed with another single to put two on for the Spirits. Sopocy went down on strikes but a walk to Hackney kept the inning alive. Another walk to German cut the lead to 6 to 4 before the Cardinals turned to Smerczynski to stave off a Spirits comeback opportunity. He and Tipton went toe-to-toe, and with a 3-2 count and all runners moving, Smerczynski won the battle, catching Tipton on swings to end the game.
“Tough one to lose,” Lee commented afterwards. “We didn’t capitalize on any plays tonight. Sip (Sipila) had a tough first inning and he’d be the first to tell you he didn’t really have his stuff tonight. We didn’t really have much else to go with, so we’re thankful he even took the opportunity to pitch. We missed that play at home when David (Tipton) threw a strike. We get that, maybe we build some different momentum. We had bases loaded twice and didn’t come through either time. 9 players left on base against a team this good? Forget about it. We had no heroes tonight. Someone has to step up; self included and we didn’t. Credit to the Cardinals. Good win for them tonight. If David (Tipton) gets a hit with all of us moving on that last pitch, maybe a different outcome. We’ll certainly be seeing the Cardinals again.”
The team returns to action next Monday night when faceoff against the Reds at Graham Field. First pitch is slated for 6:45PM and you can click here for schedule details.