(March 9, 2022 – Euless, TX) It appeared the team was cruising, but some late-inning work put in by the Fort Worth Drillers caused an early season scare for the Spirits (40+) squad Wednesday night in DFW-ABA 40+ League action.
Spirits starter, Jonathan Duran looked great in his pitching debut for 2022, putting in 5 innings of work while allowing just a pair of earned runs to cross the plate. Duran was able to get Christopher Allen and Scott Swingle to ground out to start off the game, but a walk to Phil Varrichio and a single by Paul Taylor showed that the Drillers came ready to play. Fortunately, Duran was able to get Jeremy Wright to ground out and the Spirits flipped to offense and quickly jumped out to a 2 to 0 lead. Eric McPherson drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch. He moved to third after Kirk Sipila singled and moments later, he was able to score on a passed ball that allowed Sipila to advance to second. Travis Hitzeman then followed with an RBI single to score Sipila before Don Massoud grounded into a double-play to kill both base runners. Shawn Lee went down on swings to end the inning, but the Spirits had an early lead.
The Drillers then rallied for 3 runs to take a 3 to 2 advantage in the second after back-to-back singles by Mark Lamkin and Travis McDaniel. Michael Tedder then reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed McDaniel at second, but Lamkin was able to score on the play. Bill Downing loaded the bases after reaching on an error by Sipila, and a follow up single by Allen scored Tedder. Swingle flew out, but two more singles by Varrichio and Taylor gave the Drillers a 3 to 2 lead after one and a half complete.
The Spirits then tied the game after Will Nash drew a walk and Brant Finchum reached on an error that allowed Nash to score from first. Drillers starter, Jeremy Wright was able to get both David Tipton and Stacy Scott on swings to get out of the jam, but the Spirits tied the game at, 3 to 3.
Fast forward to the bottom of the fourth with the game still tied, 3 to 3. Sipila reaches on a one-out walk and advances to third on a single by Hitzeman. Massoud then came through with a double to score Sipila and a single by Lee scored both Hitzeman and Massoud. Lee was able to move to third on the throw home, and the Drillers turned to Downing to try to slow the Spirits offense. Downing was able to get Nash to fly out before Bobby Kornhauser grounded out to end the inning, but the Spirits had a 6 to 3 advantage moving into the fifth inning.
Both teams went scoreless in the fifth frame, but the Spirits let the Drillers get right back into the game after they turned to Kornhauser to replace Duran. Kornhauser, in his first outing in over a year showed good speed and power behind his pitches but struggled with his location. With little to no help from the plate umpire, Kornhauser played a game of back and forth, walking Tedder, then striking out Downing, and then repeating the process for the next two hitters. Allen drew a walk and Kornhauser proceeded to set down Swingle on strikes, but another walk, this time to Varrichio, loaded the bags for the Drillers. Kornhauser was able to get Taylor to foul off his first offering, but then followed with four straight balls to walk him and plate Tedder. Kornhauser then battled Wright, and in what appeared to be strike three that was called a ball, later turned into the atypical team reference of a “Spirits inning” when a number of bad things simply line up together to hurt the team. The missed call led to Wright slapping a single over the top of second base and as a result, Allen and Varrichio scored and the game was tied. Kornhauser was then able to set down Lamkin on strikes to get out of the inning, but the game was tied, 6 to 6 before the dust settled.
“It was frustrating to watch, but that’s baseball,” Lee later commented. “We needed to get Korn (Kornhauser) some work. I mean, we were excited to see him striking guys out. He’ll be doing that a lot this season, but it was his first game back after a long time so we had to take the good with the bad. I thought he had strike three before they recorded that hit and tied the game up. But you can’t rely on the umpires to get it done for you. Drillers are a solid hitting team. To me, they’re a reflection of who we are, so we expected a battle. Bobby will be fine, and perhaps after some therapy, I will be as well.”
The good news for the Spirits is that heroics were just minutes away for them. As the team was winding down the bottom of the order and time was running out on the league’s two-hour time limit rule for games, veteran Earl German took to the plate to get things started. German wasted little time after taking a 1-0 pitch to left-center field for a single to lead things off. Duran followed by then taking the next pitch up the middle for a single and just like that, the Spirits had two on with nobody out. It didn’t take long for the walk-off scenario to show its wonderful head as McPherson followed up with a game-winning single down the left field line that allowed German to gingerly make his way from second to home, and to give the Spirits a 7 to 6 walk-off win.
“Pretty exciting stuff,” continued Lee. We had a couple of long faces after we let them tie the game up, and then BOOM! The bottom of our order says, ‘we got this,’ and they take us to a win about 3 minutes later. Gotta love it. German has been on point with his hitting since last season. He’s not the fastest demon on the bags, but fortunately Erk’s (Eric McPherson’s) hit was hard enough down the line that it didn’t matter. Great win tonight. Any time you can beat a good team like the Drillers is a good win.”