(August 29, 2022 – Plano, TX) Ah, the Championship game. The one game you play the whole season for. Anticipation. Hard work. Strategy. A lot goes into a full season to get to this point and on Monday, the two teams representing the NTABL Masters League were both worthy of the position they were in. In fact, 2022 featured a rematch of last year’s league championship, in which the Spirits won using a come-from-behind scenario to stun the Cardinals. Could history repeat itself?
Unfortunately, for the Spirits (45+) this wasn’t the case. What started off as exciting as when the Wizard of Oz switched from black and white to color, later proved to be a very dark plot twist and difficult to watch way to end the season for the ghosts.
On the mound for the Cardinals, trustworthy veteran, Troy Key. Key was the same pitcher who went nearly 14 innings last year to pitch both games for the Cardinals only to see sweet victory pulled from his grips. Fortunately for Key, his offense combined with a dismal performance by the Spirits defense would turn out to be a rather easy win. But the Spirits certainly made a few heads shake in the first inning, courtesy of big-swinging, Travis Hitzeman.
Chris Allen drew a leadoff walk to start off the game and the Spirits quickly had a base runner. Eric McPherson singled and the ghosts had two on with nobody out. Kirk Sipila reached on a ground ball fielder’s choice that put out McPherson at second, and allowed Allen to move to third. Enter Hitzeman. Hitzeman watched a strike, fouled off the next pitch, and then saw 3 straight balls. The payoff? A hanging curveball that Hitzeman sent into orbit and straight through the nearly 15-20 mph wind blowing straight in for a 3-run homerun and a Spirits 3 to 0 lead (video posted below). Shawn Lee popped out to the catcher but Sean House kept the inning alive with a deep single to left centerfield. Key was able to get Will Nash to ground out to end the inning but for the moment, the Spirits had some momentum.
In the bottom half of the inning, Joe Lowry grounded to Lee at shortstop and Lee proceeded to make an errant throw that allowed Lowry to reach. The good news was that the ball bounced off the brick straight back to Brian Hackney at first base and Hackney was able to relay to Sipila at second to tag Lowry out after he had turned into fair play and then was tagged out in a very short game of pickle. House, the Spirits starting pitcher followed by hitting Kevin Fought with a pitch and then allowing a single to Jerry Anderson. John Mahalik drew a walk, and a follow up RBI sacrifice fly ball by Jerry Gamez cut the Spirits lead to, 3 to 1. Both Anderson and Mahalik were able to move over following a wild pitch before Steve Stone drew a walk, and another wild pitch later followed by some Little League play on the relay from Lester Bedford to House covering the plate turned into both runners scoring on a wild pitch and an error. Jason New made the poor play hurt by singling home Stone, and just like that (Forrest Gump voice and phrase implied), the Cardinals held a 4 to 3 advantage.
The score remained the same until the third after David Tipton reached on a one-out double. Allen flew out, but McPherson came through with an RBI single to score Tipton and the game was tied before Sipila flew out to end the inning. With a score of 4 to 4 in the third, the team still definitely felt hope but that would soon disappear as the fourth run would be the last one scored for the Spirits during their 2022 Masters League campaign.
The Cardinals rebounded to regain the lead in the bottom half of the inning after Gamez singled and made his way around the bags following errors by the Spirits infield, combined with some wild pitches.
In the fourth, the Cardinals added 4 more runs to take a 9 to 4 advantage after a pair of hit batsmen put two on with one out. The Spirits then turned to Earl German to pitch and Lowry greeted him with a single to load the bases. Mark Tierney scored easily on a passed ball and both Brent Smerczynski and Lowry later scored on a single by Fought. A single by Anderson moved Fought to third and after Anderson stole second, Fought was able to score on another passed ball.
Fast forward to the bottom of the sixth and things remained both dark and ugly for the Spirits defense. Smerczynski singled and Juan Mollinedo reached on another errant through by Lee, this time in an attempt to spin a double play. Lee’s throw went straight towards the right field bullpen and both runners advanced a base. Lowry then reached on another error by Lee after Lee chased a short roller in the middle infield and his one-hop throw to first couldn’t be fielded by Hackney. Smerczynski scored on the play and minutes later, Mollinedo scored on a sacrifice fly by Fought. The Cardinals added another three runs, capped by a 2-RBI single by New that allowed the final two runs to cross the dish before the game was called due to the league’s 10-run playoff mercy rule.
“Not much to chatter about,” Lee mentioned after the game. “I personally sucked on defense. Our overall defense wasn’t good. We just didn’t have it. The box score shows 6 errors. It was more like 9. Our scorekeeper sucked too. Not taking anything away from the Cardinals. They played well enough to win. It’s just sad to me that we didn’t show up and battle. After that first inning, we just kind of disappeared. I can’t speak for the rest of my guys. Some of them played well. Others did not. This just isn’t the type of game you want to end a season with. Pretty good season otherwise. However losing to a team five times in the same season tells me that we are below the bar; that bar being the Cardinals. They are a better team that we are. They proved it five times this season. I think we need to rethink a few things to get to that level of play. If a team beats you that many times, you have to figure some stuff out.”
The Spirits finish the season at 13-6, good for second place in 2022. The team wants to thank all of those involved in supporting Dallas Spirits baseball, including friends, family, businesses, and the gals at home, and those showing up to games. The team will have a very short time to ponder what could have been as the Spirits (40+) begins fall baseball play starting on Wednesday night.