(September 13, 2021 – Carrollton, TX) In round two of the NTABL Masters League double-elimination playoffs, the Spirits (45+) squad played host to the Caddo Reds. The Spirits owned the two regular season matchups that included a 19 to 8 win back in April, and a 9 to 6 win back in July. Was the third game rubber match opportunity for the Reds to play spoiler or would the Spirits squad continue to remain on top of the friendly rivalry? The answer was played out on Field #11 at McInnish Park in Carrollton as the two teams squared off for second round playoff baseball.
The Spirits once again turned to veteran and crafty right-handed pitcher, John Holmquist. Holmquist was a perfect 6-0 with one playoff game win and had proven to be reliable all season. The tall, lanky pitcher didn’t disappoint as he delivered 5 and 2/3 innings of solid work. Holmquist was able to limit the Reds to just one unearned run off of 6 hits, while walking 2, and striking out 2 in his second NTABL playoff game. Would it be enough?
The Spirits were able to retire the Reds top 4 hitters after Chris Allen hit a one-out single. Holmquist set TK Hayes down on strikes and was able to get Daniel Washington to ground out to end the top half of the first. The Spirits then struck quickly in the bottom half of the inning after five straight singles by Eric McPherson, Kirk Sipila, Travis Hitzeman, David Tipton, and Sean House. McPherson reached and moved to second on a single by Sipila, but some errant base running saw the veteran Spirits tagged out at second base after overrunning the bag. Sipila moved to second on Hitzeman’s single and an RBI single by Tipton scored Sipila. House’s single was good enough to score Hitzeman and Shawn Lee was able to reach on a fielder’s choice that squeezed House at second. The inning then ended suddenly after the relay from the out at second made its way to the dish, where Tipton had attempted to score on the play and was tagged out to put a stop to the scoring.
With a 2 to 1 lead heading into the second inning, the game then became a sleeper. The teams traded possibilities that ended without fruition in the second after Will Nash led things off with a double for the Reds that ended in nothing after the next three hitters went in order. For the Spirits, John Hefner singled and Brian Hackney flew out, but a single by Brant Finchum put two on with one out. Earl German singled to load the bases, but a fielder’s choice that allowed Chris Lewis to arrive safely at first, squeezed Hefner at the plate for out number two. Finchum was then picked at third to end the inning.
A double by Hitzeman in the third unfortunately went nowhere, and after Reds pitcher Brent Baker led the top half of the fourth with a walk, he quickly became out number one after Holmquist turned and picked him before he moved a step after two pitches into Allen’s second at-bat. Allen eventually drew a walk off of Holmquist, and back-to-back singles by Hayes and Washington had the Reds in business. Holmquist recovered however, and was able to get both Nash and Jeffrey Smith to fly out to end any scoring opportunity for the Reds.
Lee led off the fourth with a single but was stranded after Hefner flew out and Hackney grounded out, pushing Lee to second. Baker was able to get Finchum to fly out to end the fourth with the same 2 to 0 score.
The Reds went in order in the fifth and the Spirits rallied for another run to make it 3 to 0 after Lewis reached on a one-out single. McPherson moved Lewis to second with another single, and a fly out by Sipila to the right side allowed Lewis to tag and move to third, putting runners at the corners with two down. An RBI single by Hitzeman scored Lewis to provide added insurance before Tipton eventually flew out to end the frame.
It was the Reds turn to rally and they did just that in the sixth after Stacey Scott reached on an error by Tipton in the outfield. Joel Chorino singled to move Scott to third, but a solid defensive effort by the Spirits saw Baker fly out with a throw to first that was able to cut down Chorino for a double-play. Scott eventually scored after Allen singled, and the Spirits then turned to German to relieve Holmquist and to give the remaining Reds hitters a different look. German’s work was short and sweet as he retired Hayes on a flyout to end the inning.
The score remained 3 to 1, Spirits after Hefner added a two-out single in the bottom of the sixth that went nowhere, and the Spirits then turned to House to close up shop in the top half of the seventh and he did just that. Despite back-to-back singles by Washington and Nash, House and company were able to force Washington at third after allowing Smith to reach on an error. House was then able to get Steven Nutt to ground into a 6-4-3 double-play that ended the game and sent the Spirits into the semifinals with a 3 to 1 victory.
“We missed out on some scoring opportunities tonight that could have made this a little less tense, but a win is a win and we’re happy to take one against a solid hitting team like the Reds,” Lee commented after the game. “Holmquist did another great job for us tonight, and Hitzeman was big tonight from the plate. Tipton and House had some important hits for us as well and overall, it was a solid team win. Sometimes they’re not always flashy, but what matters most is walking away with that W.”
Allen led the Reds offense with 2 hits, including a walk and an RBI. Washington and Nash each added a pair of hits as well, with Nash adding a double. For the Spirits, it was Hitzeman with a 3-for-3 performance that included a double, a run scored, and an RBI.
The victory earns the Spirits a spot in the semifinal game where they will face a very familiar opponent in the form of the top-seeded, Dallas Cardinals. The Cardinals won all three of the regular season matchups against the ghosts, and come in as a source of the team’s kryptonite. That game is scheduled for an 8:45PM first pitch on Graham Field next Monday night and you can click here for schedule details.