(August 14, 2023 – Coppell, TX) The Spirits (42+) squad played with fire on Monday night, nearly falling to the number four seeded Rattling Dodgers before sneaking away with a walk-off victory in NTABL Masters (42+) League playoff action.
Errors by the Spirits opponent proved to be costly, including in the game’s final frame, and the Spirits were able to pick up a run and sneak away with an opportunity to enter the tournament semifinals for a chance to play in the league’s championship game.
Shawn Lee led the Spirits offense with a pair of hits and a run scored, and Kirk Sipila added a triple and a run scored. RBIs by Ryan Marsland, Brian Hackney, and Earl German each proved important as well. Marsland picked up the victory on the mound as he and Jonathan Duran combined to allow 7 earned off 8 hits, with Duran walking 3 hitters and striking out two, and Marsland walking none and striking out 4.
The Spirits jumped out to an early 4 to 0 lead after setting down the Rattling Dodgers in order in the top of the first. Sipila tripled after Eric McPherson flew out to start the inning, and Marsland followed by reaching on an error that allowed Sipila to score, and Lee singled to move him to second. Brant Finchum walked to load the bases, and another walk to Hackney scored Marsland to make it 2 to 0. Lee scored on a wild pitch from opposing starter, Kevin Simmons, and after giving up a walk to Mike Sopocy, Finchum later scored on another wild pitch to give the ghosts a 4 to 0 advantage before German lined out and Sopocy was picked off of first for a double-play to end the inning.
The Spirits later made it 6 to 0 in the bottom half of the second after Shawn Hunt led the inning off with a single and moved to second after Lester Bedford followed with another single. McPherson and Sipila both flew out but a walk to Marsland and a pair of passed balls allowed both Hunt and Bedford to cross the plate before Simmons won a battle of strikes against Lee to end the inning.
As the Rattling Dodgers rounded the lineup and returned to the top half, they found the formula to get on top of Duran’s pitching. Kenneth Nelson drew a lead off walk and after Duran struck out Patrick Osage, Koran Johnson also drew a walk. Lead off hitter, Lorenzo McEwen flew out with no damage and it appeared the Spirits might get out of the inning, however the old phrase, “walks are runs” showed its ugly presence after Dee Mauldin tripled with two outs to score both runners. Nick Bird followed with an RBI single to score Mauldin and a double by Brian Kellner scored Bird to cut the Spirits lead down to, 6 to 4. Scott Bergset drew a base-on-balls but Duran was able to stop the bleeding after getting Simmons to fly out.
The Spirits picked up another run in the bottom of the third after the Rattling Dodgers turned to Osage to pitch. Finchum singled and after Hackney flew out, Finchum moved to third when Sopocy singled. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch and an RBI single by German scored Finchum to make it 7 to 4, Spirits before Hunt flew out and Bedford struck out to end the inning.
The Spirits then turned to Marsland in the top half of the fourth and Marsland welcomed the Rattling Dodgers hitters to the plate by striking out the side. The ghosts then stranded a pair of runners in the bottom half of the inning after Sipila reached on a one-out error and Lee singled after Marsland flew out, but a line drive by Finchum didn’t break through and the score remained 7 to 4 in favor of the Spirits.
After picking up his fourth straight strikeout in the fifth, the Rattling Dodgers top half of the order found paydirt again after McEwen singled and swiped second base. Maulding followed with a single to push McEwen to third. Mauldin stole second and McEwen was able to score on the throw to second, and a follow up RBI single by Bird scored Mauldin to make it 7 to 6. Kellner followed with a double to push Bird to third and he later scored on a sacrifice fly by Bergset to tie the game.
The Spirits went down in order in the bottom frame and the Rattling Dodgers did the same in the top half of the sixth setting the stage for heartbreak. After getting Hunt and Bedford on swings, McPherson was able to draw a two-out walk. McPherson later stole second base and the move proved heroic as Sipila hit a routine grounder toward second that appeared would shut down the inning and perhaps force both teams to play longer than the league’s two hour time limit to see who would advance. Steve Matthews booted the ball and Sipila was able to make it to first safely and McPherson never even looked, rounding third and coming all the way home to score on the blunder. Due to the league’s 2-hour time limit on games, the error proved to be one of walk-off fashion for the ghosts, as they won the game and the opportunity to advance to the loser’s bracket semifinals game.
“We were in full heart attack mode after they came back,” Lee mentioned afterwards. “We were on cruise control for a moment and their bats came alive. They had three fielding errors that all seem to hurt when they occurred, especially the last one. You feel bad to see a guy get down for making a mistake, but in this age group it happens and it happens often. We’ll have to play better, but for now, we’ll take the win.”
The Spirits will return on Wednesday night to face off against the Reds, who initially sent the team to the tournament loser’s bracket. The winner of that game will advance to the championship next Monday night.