Playoff Run Starts Off on Wrong Foot for Spirits (42+)

(August 7, 2023 – Coppell, TX) It’s definitely not the way a team wants to start a playoff run. For the Spirits (42+) squad, wrong foot has been a phrase congruent with the Caddo Reds all season. For some reason, in 2023, the Caddo Reds have had the Spirits number. That may have something to do with Reds pitcher, Alph Coleman. A former minor league prospect, Coleman isn’t a guy who will throw the ball past you but he will certainly keep you off balance with a mix of speeds and bending pitches that seem to have become Kryptonite for most Spirits hitters.

During Monday’s contest, it was the unfortunately same dismal recipe as the Spirits were unable to find anything in the tank to pull away from the Reds. The Reds went on to win the game 5 to 4, sending the #2 seeded Spirits backing to the league’s double-elimination losers bracket rounds of the NTABL Masters (42+) League playoffs.

The Spirits were only able to muster 8 hits on the night, with two each coming from Eric McPherson and Kirk Sipila. Starting pitcher, Ryan Marsland struggled with control and it cost the Spirits in the form of 7 free trips to first base via walks, accounting for 3 out of the 5 runs for the Reds.

Marsland had a fast start, setting down 3 of the top 4 Reds hitters after striking out TK Hayes and getting Coleman to fly out. Gary Jackson reached on an Spirits fielding error but Marsland was able to get Daniel Washington to fly out.

The Spirits then started off hot, adding 3 runs in the bottom half of the first inning after McPherson and Sipila both singled to start the inning. Travis Hitzeman flew out and Marsland singled to load the bags. Shawn Lee reached on a fielder’s choice that allowed McPherson to score but squeezed Marsland at second base. Lee stole second base with Sipila on third and Sipila later scored on an error by Reds shortstop, Jim Johann. Lee later scored on a passed ball before Coleman was able to get Earl German on a fly ball to end the inning.

The Spirits defense behind Marsland was able to stave off any scoring until the top half of the fourth when the Reds rallied to tie the game, 3 to 3. Coleman singled to lead off the inning and Jackson drew a walk. Both runners stole bags to advance and Coleman scored two pitches later on a wild pitch from Marsland. An RBI double by Washington plated Jackson, and three straight walks allowed Washington a free trip home to tie the game. The Spirits turned to Sipila to stop the bleeding and Sipila was able to get Johann to fly out and Stacy Scott to ground into a double-play.

The game remained tied until the top half of the sixth inning when Marlon Woods drew a one-out walk. An error by Hitzeman at third base allowed Steven Nutt to reach safely and the combination of allowing runners aboard cost the Spirits after Brett Baker grounded out giving Woods opportunity to score. Sipila was able to get Johann to ground out to get out of the inning but the Spirits were once again facing a late game deficit.

The ghosts then tied the game, 4 to 4 in the bottom of the sixth after McPherson led things off with a double. Sipila grounded out to move McPherson to third, and an RBI single by Hitzman scored him before Marsland reached on a fielder’s choice that put Hitzeman out at second. Lee followed with a flyout to end the inning with the game knotted at 4.

In the seventh, the Reds rallied for the go ahead run after James Roberts drew a walk with one out. Todd Murrah singled to move Roberts to second but the Spirits were able to record a second out after Joel Chirino grounded to third. Hitzeman put out Roberts with a force out and the Reds still had a pair of runners aboard with two outs. A single by Hayes would prove to be the winner after Murrah scored to give the Reds a 5 to 4 lead. The Spirits then turned to Mike Sopocy to help get out of the inning after Sipila walked Coleman. Sopocy was able to pick Coleman at first to get out of the inning but the Spirits had some work to do if they wanted to continue along the winners bracket route.

Unfortunately, the offense wasn’t able to find any heroics as Coleman was able to set the Spirits hitters in order to stave off any comeback ideas and to get the win for the Reds.

“Another tough pill to swallow,” Lee commented afterwards. “Now we’ll have to win a handful of games to get back in the race. They (Reds) seemed to have our number most of the season and apparently we’re letting that trend continue. 10 walks isn’t going to get it done. We’re hurting for pitching due to the number of games we have going on between the leagues. Our guys aren’t stepping up in key moments to give us any edge. Right now, we’ll just have to claw and scratch.”

The team will return to action Wednesday night to face the Knights for an opportunity to continue in the league’s playoff tournament.

Game Box Score

Five Star Ford Players of the Game

Eric McPherson (2-3, 2B, 2 R)

Kirk Sipila (2-3, R; 3.2 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, K)

Travis Hitzeman (1-3, RBI)