(July 6, 2022 – Euless, TX) It seemed the team may have gotten over the hump. The Spirits (40+) squad headed into postseason play Tuesday night hoping for an opportunity to reach the next level in DFW-ABA 40 League action, however another year and the same result continued to be the storyline as the team once again watched its season come to an end at the hands of the Redbirds.
The team battled but unfortunately came up short, dropping the best-of-three series 2 to 1 in favor of the Redbirds after taking the first game and going into game two with a 2 to 1 advantage heading into the game’s final frame.
The offense was a little quiet in game one, but the defense and solid pitching from Spirits starter, Mike Sopocy seemed to be the perfect recipe to hold back the Redbirds offense. The Spirits scattered just 5 hits on offense but used opportunity on defense to halt the Redbirds from scoring more than a run. Kirk Sipila and Stacy Scott both finished with a hit and an RBI to help the Spirits edge the Redbirds in game one by a score of 2 to 1.
In the third, Earl German and Duane Aponte both singled to start the Spirits half of the inning. David Tipton reached on a fielder’s choice that put out German at third and a follow up RBI single by Scott scored Aponte to break the 0-0 tie, and to give the Spirits a 1 to 0 lead. Eric McPherson then reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Scott at second, but Sipila kept the inning alive with an RBI single to give the Spirits a 2 to 0 lead before Aaron Wilson grounded out to end the inning.
The Redbirds rallied for a run to cut the lead to, 2 to 1 after Mark Tierney drew a walk and then scored on a triple by Brent Smerczynski. The Spirits went on to win the game behind Sopocy’s work. Sopocy finished with the complete game victory, allowing just one earned run on 8 hits, walking 4, and striking out 7.
In game two of the doubleheader, the Spirits went with Aponte while the Redbirds turned to Dustin Harrison in the battle of arms. Like the first game, offense was few and far between as the teams went 4 inning scoreless. The Spirits again found themselves anemic on offense, earning just 4 hits in game two. Will Nash finished 1-for-2 and German finished perfect, adding a hit and a pair of walks but untimely mistakes in the infield would eventually lead to the Spirits demise.
Nash led off the Spirits fifth inning with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. Shawn Hunt went down on swings but another wild pitch gave Tipton the opportunity to move to third. German walked, but Aponte followed with a sacrifice fly to break the ice, scoring Tipton to give the Spirits a 1 to 0 lead before Sopocy flew out to end the inning.
The Redbirds followed with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning after Lester Bedford and Jerry Anderson both flew out. Juan Mollinedo singled and stole second, and a follow up single by Joe Lowry tied the game at 1 to 1. Lowry also swiped second, and single by Kevin Fought moved him to third. Fought also stole second but the Spirits got out of the inning after Jerry Gamez grounded out to kill the rally.
The Spirits rallied for the go ahead run in the top half of the seventh after Eric Goetz was able to reach on a Redbirds error. Tipton grounded out but Goetz was able to make it to second safely and the go ahead run was in scoring position. Hunt went down swinging but was able to take off for first after Bedford dropped strike three for the Redbirds. Bedford relayed the throw to first base to record the out, but an attentive Goetz broke for the plate on the throw to first and was able to beat the relay back home from Smerczynski at first, and the Spirits had a 2 to 1 lead before German added a single and Aponte grounded out to end the inning.
“I thought we had them at that point,” Shawn Lee mentioned following the game. “We seemed to have an edge all evening and after Goetz scored, I thought we were going to get a win. It was tough to watch the next set of events play out.”
In the bottom half of the inning, Anderson singled and stole second and the Redbirds had their fifth stolen base in the game. Mollinedo grounded out but Anderson was able to advance to third. Lowry then followed with a dribbler to Aponte on the mound and it appeared that the Spirits were going to get out of the jam as Aponte had Anderson dead to rights breaking for home plate. Aponte mishandled the ball however, and Lowry was able to reach safely and Anderson crossed the dish to tie the game. Lowry then stole second two pitches later, and the Redbirds had the winning run at second. Aponte was able to get Fought to ground out, but Gamez followed with a single to right field and the speedy Lowry was able to score easily to give the Redbirds the 3 to 2 walk off win.
“Tough one to swallow,” continued Lee. “We had chances to get the win and move on. That really was a tough play for Duane but the real issue we had was giving them second base. Between their skills on running bases and in my opinion, a few tough pitches for Shawn (Hunt) to catch and relay to second to throw guys out was our issue. I felt that each time their runner broke for second, we had some sort of untimely pitch that proved difficult to catch, cock back and relay. Shawn put the ball near the bag. It’s our job to catch and tag. We just missed. They took advantage of that and it cost us.”
The teams headed home for the evening and returned to Texas Star on Wednesday for the rubber match. As expected, a new arm was on arrival and the Redbirds turned to veteran pitcher, Shawn Onley. The Spirits were able to scatter 8 hits throughout the game but very limited scoring opportunity led to just one run before the game was over. The Redbirds opened for 4 runs in the second and another 3 runs in the fifth and the game appeared very lopsided the entire way. The Redbirds used 10 hits, including another triple by Smerczynski to cruise to an 8 to 1 victory, effectively ending the Spirits (40+) season.
“Kind of felt that one was over before it started,” Lee continued. “They showed up fired up and had a fresh new arm to throw against us. I just didn’t feel that same energy we had in the dugout the night before. Credit to them. They came hungry and were successful. Nearly each one of us hit safely but we just didn’t put hits together to score runs and they did. It’s tough losing to the same team each year, but we need to get over the edge one of these times. Wasn’t our time I guess.”
The Spirits finish the season with a 11-3-1 record, good for second place in the regular season and the only team to add a blemish to the number one seeded Red Sox, who finished at 15-0-1.