(April 3, 2023 – Coppell, TX) It wasn’t pretty, and despite a few clips to make the highlight reel, the Spirits (42+) squad found itself trailing and facing a come-from-behind loss to the Hurricanes as they moved into the game’s final inning. Fortunately, the Hurricanes provided the Spirits with some gifts from the pitcher’s mound that helped the ghosts succumb an 8 to 6 deficit to walk-off with a 9 to 8 victory.
The Hurricanes played a solid game, out-hitting the Spirits by a margin of 9 to 8, but pitching struggles eventually became the team’s demise late in the contest. Spirits starter, Earl German was getting his job done, backed by a solid effort on offense but because to lose the zone a bit near the end of his 3 and a third innings of work. Losing the zone wasn’t necessarily his own doing, however that can be a conversation of subjectiveness at any game. Getting back to the facts, German was able to set down the first two Hurricanes hitters with strikeouts before walking Ben Northcutt. He quickly got out of the first inning after Raul Ponce grounded out leaving the Hurricanes scoreless.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Spirits jumped on Hurricanes starter, Jim Crombie right out of the gate. Chris Allen drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a single by Eric McPherson. Kirk Sipila doubled home both runners and then crossed the dish in front of Ryan Marsland, who crushed a line drive to center that bounced over the head of center fielder, Michael Madsen and rolled to the wall. Marsland completed the unusual inside-the-park homerun and the Spirits led the game 4 to 0 before Crombie was able to set down Shawn Hunt, Will Nash, and Sean House in order to get out of the inning.
The Hurricanes rallied for a run in the top half of the second after Madsen reached on a Spirits fielding error and moved to second on a single by Crombie. Jeff Carr made it back-to-back singles off of German, scoring Madsen to cut the Spirits lead to, 4 to 1. German was then able to set down Chad McCune, Eric Reifschneider, and Jamie Byers in order to close the top half of the inning.
The Spirits then added a fifth run in the bottom half of the inning after Brian Hackney drew a one-out walk and then moved to second after David Tipton singled. Lester Bedford grounded out but was able to move the runners over for Brant Finchum. Finchum reached on an RBI single to score Hackney before German drew a walk to load the bags. Crombie was able to get Allen to fly out to get out of another jam and to keep his team within reach.
In the third, the Hurricanes rallied for another 3 runs and did so with two outs. Brad Petty and Diego Aristizabal both singled and a double by Northcutt scored Petty. A follow up double by Ponce scored both Aristizabal and Northcutt and the Hurricanes were within a run before Madsen grounded out to close the Hurricane’s half of the third.
Sipila’s solo homerun in the bottom of the third increased the Spirits lead to, 6 to 4 as the ghosts stranded another pair of runners after Hunt and Nash each drew walks. Del Robertson, who had replaced Crombie for the Hurricanes to start the inning was able to get House to fly out to stave off any additional insurance opportunity.
Enter the Hurricanes rally cap inning. After Crombie singled and Carr grounded out, a bunt single by McCune put runners on the corners. Reifschneider drew a walk to load the bases and his patience proved wise as the Spirits turned to Marsland to replace German for some rally stoppage work. Byers greeted Marsland with another round of patience at the dish, picking up the easy run batted in after he walked and pushed home Crombie. Samuel Peters followed with a single that scored both McCune and Reifschneider, and the Hurricanes had a 7 to 6 advantage before Kirk Pruitt drew a walk and Marsland settled in and struck out Petty and then picked off Carr at first, who was running for Pruitt.
Looking to return favor, the Spirits came up empty in the bottom frame after Hackney singled with one out, only to watch Tipton and Bedford fly out to close out the inning.
Hoping to shut things down and get back on offense, the Spirits watched as their gloves turned to skillets, assisting the Hurricanes with an insurance run in the fifth. Aristizabal reached on a Spirits fielding error and went on to steal second base. Marsland struck out Northcutt but another boot by the Spirits infield allowed Ponce to reach safely and for Aristizabal to score to give the Hurricanes a 2 run lead. Bedford cut down Ponce trying to steal and Marsland struck out Madsen to get out of the inning.
Onto the fifth and final inning as time on the league’s 2-hour game time limit was fast approaching. The Hurricanes turned to Aristizabal to pitch in the final half inning and Finchum patiently waited to see if the Hurricanes new pitcher could find the strike zone. His patience paid dividends as he drew a leadoff walk to start inning. Finchum advanced to second on a passed ball and moved to third after another, and after 4 straight pitches, German drew a walk and the tying run was aboard. With runners at the corners, Shawn Lee entered to pinch run for German. Lee, who is out from shoulder surgery was active on the roster for such an opportunity. On the following pitch, Lee stole second to get into scoring position and Aristizabal slowly but surely started to find the zone. With a 2-2 count to Allen, Aristizabal missed with a wild pitch that allowed Finchum to cross the dish in a close play, and Lee was able to move to third. Finchum was injured on the play as the ball struck him in the face on the recovery when the Hurricanes attempted to tag him out on the play.
Allen eventually drew a walk to put runners at the corners. The Hurricanes then decided to try another new pitcher, this time in the form of Jamie Byers. Byers settled in through his warm-up pitches and after McPherson took to the box, Byers delivered a strike followed by McPherson fouling off the next two pitches. The next pitch bounced past McCune at the plate and Lee was able to scramble home to tie the game at 8. McPherson eventually drew a walk on the next 4 pitches and the Hurricanes were now facing one of the best Spirits hitters in the form of Sipila.
After throwing a ball to Sipila, the Hurricanes decided an intentional walk would be the best choice, forcing an out at any bag given a ground ball to the infield. McCune set out his glove looking for the intentional ball, and in a strange twist of fate, Byers threw the ball straight down the middle of the plate. McCune had to scramble back to catch the ball and the plate umpire rang out the strike gesture and sound. With both teams getting a laugh over the pitch, Sipila set himself up halfway to be prepared if they did that again. Sure enough, McCune called for the intentional ball and Byers, who is possibly a savant for throwing the ball over the dish when he’s not trying, once again delivered a strike down the middle. Half surprised with the pitch coming, Sipila quickly gained his hitting composure and slapped a hard line drive into left field. With the Hurricanes defense playing in to prevent the run, there was simply no chance as the ball continued over the left fielder’s head and to the wall for a stand up double and a walk-off RBI for Sipila and the Spirits.
“We caught a break there,” Lee mentioned after his team finishing celebrating and trying to understand what had just happened. “That ending was crazy. I’ve seen clips of that in the past from MLB, where they caught a guy sleeping on a fake intentional walk, but this in case they were actually trying. Their pitcher just missed. Feel bad for him but at the same time, thank you. Thank you for throwing it near one of the best hitters or arguably the best hitter in the NTABL. Sipila got it done and despite the help they gave us at the end, we’ll take the W. We got lucky. We know it. They know it. We’ll need to play better. But for now, we’ll enjoy the win. Thankful for Sipila tonight. Five runs batted in and two scored, ridiculous. He accounted for 7 of our 9 runs. Dude absolutely carried us.”
The Spirits will definitely need to clean their plates for next week when they face the rival Cardinals, with both teams sitting at a perfect 4-0 record atop the NTAB Masters (42+) League standings. Fans can click here for schedule details, or can use the link to download the iScore Central app to listen to the game live online.