(May 18, 2017 – Carrollton, TX) It seemed there may be a great story unfolding Thursday night as the Dallas Spirits (35+) squad took to McInnish Field, #11 against defending 2016 champion, Modoc. As the teams tried to sneak in a game under bad weather forming in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, the real storm brewing turned out to be Modoc.
Craig Molldrem returned to the mound for the ghosts and delivered, pitching nearly five complete innings of no-hit baseball before giving up a double to James Gardner in the bottom half of the fifth with two out. He then went on to strike out Spencer Sherrard to complete his seventh strikeout of the game and it appeared with a 2 to 0 lead, the squad would coast onto their seventh straight victory to remain atop the NTABL Veterans League Standings. The defending champs had other plans, however.
Rewinding the game momentarily, the Spirits needed a couple of innings to get started against Modoc pitcher, Linty Ingram. Ingram brought a good mix of speed and breaking balls that appeared to keep the Spirits off balance most of the game. Right fielder, Jonathan Duran started the top of the third with a base on balls and then stole second. Brant Finchum then lined out and Cliff Brade reached on a fielder’s choice after Duran attempted to take third on a ball hit to the shortstop. This left a runner on first with two out when Jason Bottonfield took a 1-0 pitch to the bottom of the left-center field wall. Brade, who had swiped second, then scored easily to give the Spirits a 1 to 0 lead. The scoring continued in the top half of the fourth inning when shortstop, Travis Hitzeman took the first pitch he saw from Ingram and belted it 25 feet over the left field foul pole for a home run. The bomb didn’t appear to shake Ingram too much, as he promptly got Shawn Lee to pop out and struck out Chris Lewis and Molldrem to get out of the inning down only 2 to 0.
“After the bomb from Hitzeman, I thought we were in great shape,” commented Lee following the game. “Craig seemed to be in shutdown mode and after five innings, it seemed we had the advantage on the pitcher’s duel. Boy was I wrong.”
Trouble hit the Spirits in the sixth inning when Finchum had to be replaced at the catcher position. Finchum had been playing on borrowed time due to a hamstring injury and prior to the game starting, was a scratch as Will Nash was scheduled to start at catcher. Nash wasn’t able to make the game and Finchum stepped up, but had tweaked the injury during an at-bat earlier in the game. Travis Rae started the Modoc half of the inning and drew a five pitch walk. Rae stole second after Molldrem was able to strike out Josh Claudio and Ryan Evans then singled. Molldrem regrouped and followed by striking out Jay Langston and Chris Cec and the Spirits dodged a bullet.
Despite a pair of singles in the top half of the seventh, the Spirits were unable to add any insurance which set the stage for the game’s final half inning. Dennis Kelly drew a walk to start off the inning for Modoc and then easily stole second on Lewis. Kelly then took third following a passed ball, and Modoc was in business with a runner in scoring position and nobody out. Matt Garrabrants also walked and then took second without a play from Lewis. That set the table for Jason Rae to step up and play hero for Modoc. Rae took a 3-2 Moldrem fastball over the head of Brade and the game was tied at 2 to 2.
“After Rae’s double, I felt like we were already defeated,” continued Lee. “We don’t play for extra innings in this league and at this point all we were looking for was a tie. It was really deflating.”
Seems a tie might have been a win at that point for the Spirits, but lightening wasn’t finished striking for Modoc. Rae was able to take third after Lewis missed on a wild pitch from Molldrem, and the plate was set with nobody out in the bottom of the seventh. With all fielders moving in to stop Rae from scoring, Gardner returned to the plate and took the 1-0 pitch from Molldrem past the mound for a game-winning single up the middle as Modoc completed the storybook walk-off to beat the Spirits, 3 to 2.
Lee didn’t have a lot to say following the tough loss. “Hats off to Modoc for keeping their poise. That’s why they’re champs. They’re the measuring stick and it appears we’re not quite there yet. I’m sick to see Craig pitch nearly five innings of no-hit baseball and then to see it end the way it did. He finishes with 11 strikeouts and we can’t get him enough runs to win. Ingram shut us down offensively, but there were a few things we could have avoided to seal this victory. I’m pretty disappointed, but that’s baseball.”
The Spirits remain in a virtual tie for the top spot in the NTABL Veterans League, a half game ahead of Modoc. The squad returns to action next Thursday night as they try to get back on track as they host the Cubs at Reverchon Park in Uptown, Dallas. First pitch is slated for 6:30PM.
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