Spirits (40+) Witness Total Collapse in Loss to #Shegone

(April 19, 2023 – Euless, TX) There’s some game stories that probably just shouldn’t be written about. This is one of those stories. The Spirits (40+) was playing one of their best games of the season, playing well in every aspect of the game, until…a pair of “Spirits innings” set the team back to Little League baseball and resulted in a brutal, 8 to 7 loss to #shegone.

The fact is, not writing the story wouldn’t do justice to newcomer, Ryan Marsland. Yes, he was that good. When a player picks up your entire team and sets it on his back and carries you down the path to victory, you rally around that player and do whatever you can to support him. However, on Wednesday night, the Spirits squad failed Marsland. They failed to closeout a victory, and despite a solid effort most of the way, they just didn’t get it done.

What is a “Spirits inning” you may be asking? Coined from the players themselves, a “Spirits inning” is when the Spirits defense fails to makes plays and/or kicks the ball around. This is typically combined with an additional round of circumstances that all play into those mistakes and help the other team win, usually in embarrassing fashion. Wikipedia should consider publishing the definition following Wednesday’s loss. Let’s share how it all unfolded. That only seems fair to Marsland, who deserves some glory for his efforts alongside some other hard workings ghosts.

Marsland was brilliant, staving off the best team and best hitters in DFW-ABA 40 League (and perhaps any league) playing for the undefeated #Shegone squad. The team, consisting namely of former MLB, MiLB, former Mexican Professional League players and other independents and players with pedigree is just that good. Marsland held the team to just 5 hits in 5 innings of work, allowing one earned run, one walk, and 5 strikeouts before running out of gas. On top of that, Marsland was 3-for-3 at the dish, adding a run scored and an RBI alongside reaching on a hit-by-pitch to help contribute to attaining a Spirits victory. When he left game defensively, the Spirits had a 7 to 1 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. Oh, how things would change.

The bright side – the Spirits took an early advantage in the first after Cliff Brade singled and stole second base. Eric McPherson lost a battle on swings for the first out, but Travis Hitzeman singled and scored Brade. David Tipton also lost a battle on swings to former professional, 6′-6″ Lee Gwaltney, a former New York Yankees draftee who spent a number of years in the Minor League system. Next, it was Shawn Hunt. Hunt battled to earn a walk to load the bags and a single by Mike Sopocy scored Hitzeman before Gwaltney made Brant Finchum his third strikeout victim.

With an inspiring 2 to 0 lead, the Spirits, behind Marsland’s work, yielded a run in the bottom half of the inning after Richard Valle led the bottom frame off with a double and later moved to third on a wild pitch. He later scored on a sacrifice fly by James Bolton but the Spirits were able to escape the first inning with a 2 to 1 lead.

The Spirits went in order with Gwaltney picking up another pair of strikeouts, but Marsland followed suit in the bottom half of the inning, striking out Black Hughes and Chad Cain after Paul Zazula reached on a leadoff single.

Back-to-back one-out singles by Hitzeman and Marsland led to a run after Tipton’s sacrifice bunt moved both runners over. Hitzeman was able to score on an error by Scott Peterson at third, and the Spirits increased their lead to 3 to 1 before Sopocy grounded out to end the Spirits’ frame.

The game remained quiet until the fifth, we Marsland performing surgery with his pitches, Hunt doing a great job behind the plate, and the Spirits defense making plays and getting outs when needed. #Shegone turned to Billy McDaniel to close the game out and he picked up his first out by striking out Brade. McPherson drew a walk but Hitzeman flew out and it appeared the game would continue with a back and forth pitcher’s duel, however McPherson swiped second bae and a single by Marsland scored him to make it 4 to 1, Spirits. Tipton was able to reach on another #Shegone error, and Marsland was able to cross the plate to make it 5 to 1 before Hunt grounded out to end the frame.

Despite a leadoff walk to Mike Humber in the bottom of the fifth, and a single to Hughes, Marsland continued to deliver, striking out Cain and getting former San Diego Padres catcher, Justin Hatcher to ground out.

In the sixth, Sopocy led things off with a single and went on to steal second base before Finchum drew a walk. Stacy Scott missed a bunt sign and lined out, but both runners were able to return to their bags safely. Jonathan Duran grounded out but was able to move both runners in the process and with two outs in the inning, Brade came through with an RBI single to add some insurance. After Sopocy scored, McPherson also came through with an RBI single to score Finchum and the Spirits held a 7 to 1 lead before Hitzeman flew out to end the insurance claim.

The Spirits then turned to Duran to help close out Marsland’s masterpiece. Zeb Ferris welcomed him with a single and Valle forced him out at second a few pitches later after reaching on a fielder’s choice. Valle swiped second base and a single by Jason Garza moved him to third. Garza then stole second, and after Hunt made a play for him at the bag, Valle broke for home and easily scored. Bolton followed with a single to score Garza and after swiping second, he later scored on an RBI double by Peterson. Duran was able to get McDaniel to line out and Huber to ground out, but the lead was now cut to 7 to 4, Spirits.

In the games final frame, Marsland has hit by McDaniel to give the Spirits a leadoff runner. Hatcher was called for catcher’s interference when Tipton’s bat hit his glove and suddenly the Spirits had two on with nobody out. Hunt was called out looking and what happened next was completely out of left field. Team skipper, Shawn Lee was expecting Sopocy, the next Spirits hitter to bunt. After rattling off a handful of signs while coaching third, McDaniel delivered and Sopocy didn’t square. Marsland, new to the team and unfamiliar with the signs, broke for third base and appeared that he would have a stolen bag. Hatcher made a high throw to the #Shegone third baseman that skipped off of his glove. Marsland then took off for home as Tipton was sliding into second base,  the home plate umpire blurted out a timeout call. The umpire called batter’s interference on Sopocy, calling him out and making the runners return to their initial bases. Sopocy had backed away from an inside pitch and stepped backward, getting in the way of Hatcher’s throw to third, hence the ruling.

After the runners returned to first and second, McDaniel won the battle on strikes against Finchum to send the game into its final frame. Enter the dark side – After the strike zone suddenly disappeared and with Duran feeling he had to deliver straight down the middle of the dish, #Shegone staged its comeback. Zazula singled and advanced to second after Hughes followed with a single. Hughes was forced at second after Cain reached on a fielder’s choice and the Spirits had one out. Hatcher hit a line drive to Brade in left and Brade unfortunately took his eye off it and dropped the ball, allowing Zazula to score. Ferris popped up and after the infield fly call, the Spirits just needed one more out to cling to a solid victory. The unforgiving Baseball Gods had other plans. Duran then hit Travis Driskill to load the bases and walked Garza to score Cain. With the score now 7 to 6, Spirits, Bolton dug in and hit a routine grounder to Finchum at second base. What appeared to be sweet victory immediately turned to demise when Finchum’s throw to Scott at first was just a bit short. Scott, not normally a first baseman had trouble digging the ball and it bounced past him. Hatcher and Driskill were able to score on the blunder, and seal a walk-off win. Just like that (Forrest Gump voice over intended), the Spirits had lost the game.

“I had to apologize to my team,” continued Lee. “I’ll be honest, I’m a sore loser sometimes. I cannot stand it. And it’s mostly about these guys. I love them. I wanted them to have this win. Being injured and fighting to come back to play makes you frustrated that you can’t help. So, I didn’t take our loss like a leader should and they deserve better than that. When you sit and watch all of this unfold in front of you it’s difficult to always keep your composure. I feel cheated. Wronged. But we did this to ourselves. We have nobody to blame but us. You have to close out a game. You have to make plays. We’re just not consistent enough to be relied upon. All things aside, I’d rather lose with this group than win elsewhere. Not sure we’ll learn from it, but we will remember that (Ryan) Marsland played like a freaking champ. We’ll take that part of it home.”

The team returns to action next Wednesday night when they visit the Fort Worth Drillers on Legends Field at Texas Star. First pitch is slated for 8:45PM and fans can click here for schedule details.

Game Box Score

Next Level Sports Apparel Players of the Game

Ryan Marsland (3-3, R, RBI, HBP; 5 IP, 5 H, ER, BB, 5 K)

Travis Hitzeman (2-4, 2 R, RBI)

Mike Sopocy (2-4, R, RBI, SB)