Spirits (35+) Open with Victory Over Champs

(March 30, 2017 – Dallas, TX) Like the Spirits (45+) squad, the Veterans League squad looked to start 2017 off with a challenge. After finishing the 2016 regular season atop the NTABL Veterans League only to fall in the playoffs, the Spirits (35+) team took the field against League Champion, Dallas Modoc on Thursday night at Reverchon Park in Uptown, Dallas.

As expected, the game was a battle of pitching featuring two of the league’s best pitchers including 2016 NTABL Pitching Award winner and Dallas Spirit, Craig Molldrem pitted up against Modoc left-hander Steve Hahn. The game started in typical pitcher’s duel fashion, with Molldrem striking out the side to begin the top half of the first and with Hahn whiffing two Spirits hitters in the bottom half of the inning. The Spirits attempted to make some noise initially after Cliff Brade led the inning off with a single. Hahn caught Jason Bottenfield looking and was able to get Kirk Sipila to fly out. With one on and two out, Shawn Lee singled to right pushing Brade to third, but the short rally ended when Hahn sent Brant Finchum back to the dugout on a called third strike.

Molldrem struck out another pair of Modoc hitters, following a lead off walk to Billy Owens, however he was able to get a ground ball from the final hitter of the inning to leave unscathed. Hahn threw 4 pitches to Spirits hitters in the bottom half of the second, forcing 3 ground balls and a quick inning of work and the game was tied at zero after two complete.

The third inning again kept the fans sleepy in the friendly confines of Reverchon with Molldrem providing the only sign of life after again striking out the side in the top half of the third. Hahn again set the Spirits in order to finish the third and then led off the fourth with a single to left. After Molldrem was able to get ahead of the count facing Matt Garrabrants, Hahn made an attempt to steal second but was put out after Molldrem struck out Garrabrants and Spirits catcher Patrick Bilgere fired to second and Bottenfield was able to tag Hahn out with a quick swipe.

“Well, to be honest it’s really what we expected this game,” commented team manager, Shawn Lee. “They’ve got great pitching and so do we, and that’s a tough test in the first game of the year. I was happy to see us playing solid defense and Craig was making it easy for us as he overpowered a few of their guys. They’re no joke. They’re champs for a reason, so we were waiting for the moment when anyone’s bats were ready to come alive.”

And bats did come alive and fortunately in favor of the¬†Spirits in the bottom of the fourth when center fielder David Tipton singled up the middle to start off the inning. Brade then followed with another single, advancing Tipton to second with nobody out. Bottenfield then hit to Modoc second baseman, Spencer Sherrard in what appeared would be a routine 4-6-3 double play, but the ball went between his legs and Bottenfield reached safely and Tipton was able to score on the play. Sipila then singled to score Brade and was later squeezed by Lee as he beat out a fielder’s choice and double-play attempt which scored Bottenfield. Finchum reached on another Modoc error and Chris Lewis grounded into a 6-4-3 double-play to end the inning. The damage was done however, as the Spirits led the contest 3 to 0.

Molldem finished his night’s work but struggled a bit in the fifth as he was reaching a high pitch count. He was able to get a fly ball and a strikeout to start the inning, but Sherrard singled for Modoc and the next two hitters each drew walks to load the bases with two out. Ryan Evans worked his way to a 2-2 count, but Molldrem found the corner of the plate to set him down looking and the rally was killed. Molldrem finished the game with 11 strikeouts. From there, the Spirits appeared poised to add to their lead after three Spirits hitters drew walks. With the bases loaded and two down, replacement pitcher Billy Owens threw a wild pitch that skipped to the backstop. Molldrem made a plea for home but stopped due to the fact that the ball bounced back very quickly. John Showalter, who was running for Bilgere didn’t notice the recovery of the ball and had made his way toward third before realizing Molldrem was returning. Modoc was able to make the throw to second to tag Showalter out to end the inning, despite Tipton standing in the box with a 3-1 count.

“Honestly, that seemed to be our only mistake of the night,” continued Lee. “We’re an aggressive team and Show (Showalter) is an aggressive player. I think he expected Molldrem to take home on the wild pitch but didn’t notice the ball made such a quick rebound off the wall back to the catcher. A lost opportunity but a teachable moment. I’ll take the aggressive action any day though. We have to be more cerebral, but we’ll get better.”

Newcomer Earl German replaced Molldrem in the sixth and the left-hander wasted no time filling in. What seemed to be a solid game to this point made a rough turn for the worst when Modoc hitter Jay Langston hit a soft fly ball into foul territory past third into short left field. Showalter made a heck of an attempt on the play, but the home plate umpire subsequently called it a catch. What ensued after this particular moment is a bit unclear as Langston put up little to no argument on the play and Travis Rae stepped in for a first pitch strike. It was this point in time when both Lee and Modoc manager, Chris Cec made note of last play. Lee watched the strike call and asked for the hitter to be called out, thinking that Langston was still on the box taking strike three. This is when Cec realized that his hitter had been called out on a missed fly ball. After deliberation and arguments took place, the umpires stuck with the call due to the fact that the next Modoc hitter stepped in to take a pitch. German was able to get Rae to strike out swinging and following another Hahn single, was able to get Garrabrants to strike out looking to end the inning. Molldrem & German combined for 13 strikeouts.

“Not sure what to say about that one,” again commented Lee. “If I were in his (Cec’s) shoes, I would have argued it too. I had made a play toward the foul ball and walked back to left field. I didn’t see the out call or the hitters swap. So when Earl put one down the middle and I saw the strike call, I was yelling ‘STRIKE THREE’ from left. That’s when all the controversy started. We hate seeing a game go this way. It was a great game at that point between to really good ball clubs. It just left a real foul taste after the arguments finished and the dust settled. Regardless, I’m proud of our guys for being this poised in game one of the season. Craig probably threw more pitches than he prefers, but the outcome was spot on based on his resume; just outstanding as usual.”

The Spirits added 4 additional runs in the bottom of the sixth before time expired, including singles by German, Bottenfield, Sipila, and Lee. The Spirits (35+) squad returns to action next Thursday night as they visit the Cubs at Reverchon Park in Uptown, Dallas. First pitch is at 6:30PM.

Game Box Score

Waxahachie Autoplex Players of the Game

Kirk Sipila (2-3, R, 3 RBI)

Craig Mollrem (5 IP, 11 K, 6 BB)

Cliff Brade (2-2, 2 R, BB)