(April 24, 2023 – Coppell, TX) It’s starting to seem like a trend. Getting a lead and then watching it disappear. The Spirits have played a serious game of Jekyll and Hyde this season, and the recent trend in play from a lineup that should terrify opponents on paper is slowing turning into a ‘just wait’ game for opponents. The Spirits (42+) blew both a large lead and what appeared to be a fairly easy win into a loss on Monday night, dropping a 6 to 0 lead to eventually lose 7 to 6 in walk-off fashion for the second time in just a week. Last Wednesday, the Spirits (40+) squad watched a 7 to 1 lead disappear after the sixth inning. Tonight, it was a 6 to 2 lead in the bottom of the seventh.
“We need to make some changes in our thinking,” Shawn Lee mentioned afterwards. “I told the guys to not show up unless they were motivated to win and finish a game. We’re playing complacent. I’m not sure if we don’t care or if we’re that confident. But I do know we need to close out games. That starts with some defensive decisions and going to more of a closing pitcher mentality. I’ve been trying to work rotationally rather than in a starter/closer scenario, so that’s on me. But our defense has no excuse. We can’t catch. We can’t field. We can’t make throws. We can’t pick baseballs from the ground. We don’t make plays. I feel like we’ve been in preseason mode for two years now and it needs to stop.”
Lee, away from the game for the past six months due to a torn labrum, made his way back to the playing field for the first time during the loss. He, Lester Bedford, and Kirk Sipila each finished with a pair of hits on the night. Both Lee and Sipila finished 2-for-2, with Sipila adding a run scored and a walk. Lee doubled, knocked in 2 runs, and stole a base while Bedford added a run scored to his two hits.
Opportunity was there in what seemed to be another easy win for the ghosts. But baserunning mistakes combined with 4 errors in the field, 3 of which occured in the final inning hurt the Spirits dearly. In the first, the Spirits jumped out to a 4 to 0 lead after Eric McPherson led the game off with a single and stole seconde. McPherson advanced to third after Sipila singled and after Don Massoud reached on an error, McPherson made it 1 to 0 when he scored. Travis Hitzeman flew out and Ryan Marsland followed by reaching on another Knights error. Will Nash made it three Knights errors by reaching base, allowing both Sipila and Massoud to score on the blunder. Marsland was able to later score on a pickoff attempt of Nash, who beat out a run down after taking off for second. On pitch later, Nash reignited his poor baserunning choices by taking off for third on a fly ball by Sean House, which was caught and easily relayed back to second to pickoff Nash for the inning-ending double-play.
“Running bases. Something you’d expect us as grown men to understand. The same stuff we preach to our kids,” Lee continued. “Doesn’t help that not a single one of my guys would get out of the dugout to coach a bag. So we left guys out there on their own. Nash made a silly decision and got put out. I later thought I could race my slow trailer into third for a triple and I was out by a mile. It was embarrassing. But without anyone there to help our runners, we got exactly what we deserved.”
Massoud, the Spirits starting pitcher held the Knights scoreless in the first after allowing a walk to Mike Billingsly with two outs. The Spirits then rallied for a run in the top half of the second after Mike Sopocy drew a walk with one out. David Tipton grounded out and a single by Bedford moved Sopocy to third. Bedford swiped second base and a single by Lee scored Sopocy to make it 5 to 0, Spirits before McPherson grounded out to end the inning.
The Knights were able to put two runners on in the latter half of the inning after Michael Miller walked and was picked off at first moments later. Harlen McCaskey singled but Scott McCain flew out. Rodger Battani also drew a walk but Massoud was able to get Javier Rodriguez to fly out to close the Knights half of the inning.
Things remained quiet until the fifth inning when Bedford led off the Spirits inning with a single. Lee followed with a hard shot to the left centerfield gap that took a hard bounce past the left fielder for the Knights. Bedford scored easily and Lee’s attempt to stretch the hit into a triple was shut down by a quick relay to third that put Lee out easily. McPherson flew out and Sipila singled before Massoud flew out to end the inning with the Spirits up, 6 to 0.
The Knights then rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth after Nick Smith and Matthew Lawley both singled off of reliever, Jonathan Duran. Duran struck out Michael Kubick but Sean Smith singled to load the bases. Duran then hit Miller with a pitch to give the Knights an easy run and a single by McCaskey scored Lawley before Sean Smith was tagged out trying to score as well. Duran was then able to get McCain to ground out to end the inning.
The Spirits went in order in the sixth and the Knights went quietly in the sixth as well. In the seventh, the Spirits made some noise but didn’t capitalize after loading the bases. House singled and Brian Hackney grounded out but moved House to second. Sopocy and Tipton walked to to load the bases but Bedford hit a slow roller to the pitcher that cut down House at home on the force. Duran, hitting for Lee who retired due to soreness, nearly struck gold with a grand slam after hitting a 320 foot fly ball that went just foul before leaving the park. Duran was then retired with a slow roller to the pitcher that ended the inning for the Spirits.
In need of just 3 outs to secure a victory, the Spirits could only sit and watch as the Knights took the game from them with some help by the team’s defense. Jesus Marquez went down swinging to start off the inning but Nick Smith reached on a Spirits fielding error. Lawley then hit one up the middle that Lee missed at second base that would have been a difficult out regardless. Duran then walked the bases loaded before Sean Smith singled to score Nick Smith. Duran then hit Miller with two strikes to give the Knights another run before the Spirits turned to Sipila to stop the bleeding. McCaskey followed with a fly ball to the gap that was dropped by McPherson in right centerfield and both Kubick and Sean Smith were able to score to tie the game. Sipila intentionally walked McCain, and with the infield in, Battani hit a slow grounder to Lee at second. Lee chased, picked, and threw to Bedford at home to get Miller on the force and the Spirits returned to normal depth in hopes of obtaining a tie rather than a loss. Two pitches later, Sipila’s pitch hit the turf and bounced past Bedford. Bedford chased for the ball and relayed to Sipila, but the throw went wide and the Knights walked off on the wild pitch.
“Honestly, congrats to the Knights but that was just a (expletive) way to lose a game,” Lee continued. “Lester (Bedford) was furious at the plate ump for not getting out of the way on the wild pitch, but that’s not why we lost. We can’t close. I’m not sure if we’re too nervous or what, but we don’t make plays to secure wins. We give them up to give away wins. This may be my sore loserness talking but until we show we care about closing out a win, I’m not going to sit here and candy-coat things. We’re the Packers of amateur baseball. We win games but come home with nothing. That needs to change.”
The team will get another shot at getting back into the win column when they host the Reds next Monday night on Cowboy Field. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30PM and fans can click here for schedule details or to listen live online using the iScore Central app.