(June 11, 2017 – Dallas, TX) The Dallas Spirits (18+) squad entered Sunday’s game shorthanded with half of their normal starters unavailable to play, but full of determination. With the team’s magic number for a top four playoff birth down to one game, the team looked forward to the challenge ahead. The day’s challenge wouldn’t appear to be a small one if history held to form. The match-up saw the Indians playing up and down baseball over the past few weeks and their starting pitcher, Clay Thomas had just beaten the first place Oak Cliff Pelicans by the score of 8-1, allowing only 2 hits in 7 complete innings of work.
Spirits pitcher, Duane Aponte made short order of the Indians, setting them down in a quick 1-2-3 fashion to begin the game. In the Spirits half of the first, the feisty boys in blue drew first blood when lead off man, Cliff Brade reached on an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error on the play to first. Brade wasted little time stealing third for his team-leading 22nd swipe of the season. Teddy Croft drove in Brade with a single up the middle and the Spirits were up 1 to 0 at the end of the first inning.
The visiting Indians broke ground on scoring in the top half of the third. Sandwiched between two strikeouts, catcher Jason Hodgson lined a double to right-center field. Lorenzo McEwen managed a two out walk giving the tribe runners at first and second. Shortstop, Bryce Hunt then followed by taking the first pitch he saw back up the middle for an RBI single, scoring Hodgson. Next up, Nick Bird smashed a hard RBI double off the left-center field wall to score McEwen. Aponte and company settled in and were able to get Thomas to ground out to end the rally, but after two and a half in the books, the Indians were up 2 to 1.
The lead remained 2 to 1 until the bottom of the fourth inning. With one out and nobody aboard, catcher, Mitch Abeita came to the plate looking to put a charge into a ball. The former New York Yankees product sat patiently awaiting for an opportunity to strike, and on a 2-2 pitch, that’s exactly what he did. Abeita barreled up an inside pitch and smashed a hard liner that was caught only by the protective screen beyond the left field wall for a solo home run. The solo bomb was the only run the Spirits put on the board in the inning, but it appeared to spark some momentum in the dugout. After four innings complete, there was a new ball game with the score now tied, 2 to 2.
Perhaps inspired by Abeita’s big shot, Aponte and the Spirits cruised defensively for the next half inning, allowing only a gentle single by Hodgson. If the ignition was lit in the fourth by Abeita, the team was ready for take-off in the fifth. With on out in the inning, Spirits right fielder, Adam Brown reached on an error. Brown was able to hustle his way to second as the dropped fly ball rolled away from the Indians outfielders. Brade followed with a single to push Brown to third. With Croft up next at the plate, Brade proceeded to steal second to put himself in scoring position and as the Indians attempted to put out Brade, Brown was able to take home on the other half of a perfectly-executed double-steal. With the lead now 3 to 2 in favor of the ghosts, Croft followed with a hard shot into right-center field for a RBI single, driving in Brade and increasing the score, 4 to 2. Eric Goetz also singled and advanced Croft to second and with runners on first and second, Spirits second baseman and cleanup hitter, Mike Werner lined an 0-1 fastball into right-center for yet another single. The hit scored Croft and moved Goetz to third. Team Manager and third baseman, John Showalter jumped on an 0-1 pitch, lifting a fly ball center field which was deep enough to score Goetz, who tagged and scored on the sac fly. Thinking the throw would go to the plate, Werner then attempted to tag and go to third on the throw, however the throw was cut off by the Indians shortstop and quickly relayed to third and he was tagged out. The out ended the rally, however the damage was done with the Spirits now leading 6 to 2.
In the top half of the sixth, the Indians mustered a couple of men on base, however the Spirits defense would hold and prevent any damage from being done. Moving into the bottom half of the sixth, the Spirits picked up right where they left off. Abeita started the inning by drawing a walk and Carl Suverkrop followed with a single to right field. With two on and nobody out, Aponte was able to reach on a fielding error by the Indians shortstop. Showalter, who was running for Abeita, was able to score from second and and the blunder allowed Suverkrop to move to third. Steven Baker followed with an infield hit of his own, and with the bases now loaded, Brown, a newly sworn-in National Guardsman preparing to leave to boot camp in a few days, made his way to the plate for what would turn out to be his final at-bat of the season. Brown, known to be a very selective and patient hitter, waited to find a pitch to his liking and it turns out, it was the first one he saw.
He later commented, “I was looking to be aggressive during this at-bat. Even if I was able to get the ball into the air, I knew a run would score. The first pitch was around the plate and I was able to get a good part of the barrel on the ball. I was relieved when the ball landed in for a single and it felt good to help the team add to the lead. It was a real honor to play with guys this season. I hope that they will finish the job and bring home a League Championship!”
Two runs scored on Brown’s single to right and Brown was later thrown out on a double steal, but the out proved productive as Baker was able to take home on the throw to second. The Spirits added one more run in the sixth when Goetz completed the rally with an RBI single, giving the Spirits an 11 to 2 lead. As the game moved to the the bottom of the seventh after the Indians went 1-2-3, the ghosts managed to add the dagger to end the game short of nine innings. After Showalter and Abeita were retired, Suverkrop drew a two out walk and Aponte singled. Baker followed by slapping a grounder to second base, but the Indians second baseman struggled with the ball, allowing Suverkrop to make his way around third to score the walk-off twelfth run. The play proved to be the game’s final, as the Spirits reached the 10-run mercy limit on the play and left Jesuit College Preparatory with a 12 to 2 victory.
In Showalter’s post game comments, he noted, “I was really proud of the guys effort today. We played a very good team and even though we were missing several starters today, you would never have known it. We’re a deep team at every position, and it’s a real privilege to play with each of these guys, every game. Another great win for us and now we can relax a bit as we’ve secured our spot in the top four.”
The Spirits will enjoy a two week break from play as a variety of NTABL Open American League teams complete rain-out games. With 3 games left to play, the Spirits have earned a spot in the top four and later found themselves in first place following Tuesday night’s games. The Tube Sox were able to defeat the Oak Cliff Pelicans (13-3), thus opening the path for the Spirits to sit atop the league standings with a record of 14-3. The club returns to play on June 25 as they host the Orioles (13-3) at Graham Field located on the grounds of Prestonwood Christian Academy. First pitch is slated for 5:00PM. Click here for schedule details or to watch the game live, online.