(August 12, 2023 – Carrollton, TX) After putting up 14 runs in the first game and following a brief 15 minute break, the Spirits (50+) squad needed another 14 runs to get past the White Sox and to advance to the DFW-ABA 50 League championship game.
Battling exhaustion and a ridiculous league schedule to play two games in heat forecasted to be higher than 110 degrees, the Spirits took to the field against a formidable opponent following a 14 to 8 win earlier that morning. The Spirits turned to Mike Sopocy to pitch game two and the short-handed team once again took the field for a chance at glory.
Both teams remained silent in the first inning but the Spirits broke scoring ice in the second and put up 4 runs off of White Sox veteran starter, Alex Zuniga. Kent Fischer picked up one of his three hits during the game by leading things off with a single. Brian Hackney flew out, but Todd Murrah kept the offense rolling from game one as he doubled and moved Fischer to third. Sopocy followed with a single to score both runners and the Spirits held an early 2 to 0 lead. Sopocy was able to move to second on the throw to the plate and later scored after James Hardt tripled him home. Earl German grounded out but was able to score Hardt on the play and the Spirits held a 4 to 0 lead before Stacy Scott made his first out on the day losing a battle of strikes.
Like the game before, the White Sox rallied and kept the game close, scoring 3 runs in the bottom half of the second. Sopocy walked Kirk Brookshire and after Geraldo Salizar singled, Craig Bishop followed with a double that scored both runners. After the next hitter grounded out, Kent Affala singled home Bishop and Julio Perez followed with another single. Sopocy set down Luis Martinez on strikes before Jesus Morales grounded out to end the inning with the scoreboard now showing, 4 to 3, Spirits.
The Spirits added another run in the third after Anthony Osburn singled and moved to second after Vince Parello followed with a single. Dee Mauldin reached on a White Sox error that loaded the bags, and a sacrifice fly by Eric McPherson scored Osburn to make it 5 to 3, Spirits before Fischer and Hackney both flew out.
The Sox tied the game in the latter half of the inning after Brian Boyd and Brookshire went back-to-back singles off Sopocy, and Salizar made it three straight. And error by Osburn on a sure thing double play ball allowed Boyd to score and for the bags to remain full. The Sox followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game before Sopocy was able to get Affala to end the inning.
For the first time in 11 innings, the Spirits went three up, three down, and the Sox took advantage of the non scoring frame to gain momentum with a 4 run inning to make it 9 to 5, White Sox. Fatigue appeared imminent as Sopocy began to watch baseballs fly past him as the White Sox started off the inning with a double, a pair of singles, another double, a wild pitch, and a stolen base to obtain a 4 run lead.
“I spoke with Mike afterwards,” team manager, Shawn Lee mentioned after the game. “He told me that the Sox were dropping a combination of small gap shots just over the infield and that we struggled to make plays. We didn’t boot the ball, but we didn’t seem to have the gas to make plays. It’s something I’ve brought up most of the season. We don’t necessarily give games away all the time, but there are a lot of times we just don’t make a play. A ball drops for a single versus a guy making a great play. You have to make plays to determine your destiny. Without question, the fatigue had to be playing a role in that.”
The Spirits did answer with a run in the fifth after German drew a walk. Scott once again went down on swings and a single by Osburn moved German to second. Parello flew out and it appeared the Spirits may squander a scoring opportunity, but a single by Mauldin was good to score German to cut the lead to, 9 to 6 before McPherson flew out to end the Spirits half of the inning.
After turning to John Holmquist to pitch, Holmquist was able to set the White Sox in order after one of the Sox hitters reached base on a Spirits fielding error and was later picked off at second base. The Spirits then used that small turn in momentum and brought it to the plate in the sixth. Fischer led off the inning with a single and a double by Hackney scored him to cut the lead to, 9 to 7. Murrah reached on an error and a single by Sopocy scored Hackney. Hardt flew out but after Sopocy took second base, German reached on another White Sox error that allowed both Murrah and Sopocy to score. German swiped third base before the inning was over but was later gunned down after a sacrifice fly attempt by Scott turned into a double-play on the put out at home.
With a Spirits holding 10 to 9 lead, the White Sox answered with 3 runs in the bottom of the sixth to regain the lead. A pair of Spirits fielding errors didn’t help, and with those two free outs now missed, the Sox compounded the Spirits mistakes by adding a single to load the bases. The Spirits then turned to Osburn to see if he had some magic in him to close out the game, but a bunt single turned into a Little League scoring opportunity as the Spirits allowed two runs to cross the dish on a bunt play. Osburn then walked Boyd to load the bags and a single by Brookshire scored Morales to make it 12 to 10, White Sox. Osburn was then able to get both Salizar and Bishop to fly out, and the Spirits had their work cut out for them moving into the game’s final frame.
With the fear of having to play game three the next morning in the same exhausting temperatures of over 110 degrees, the Spirits offense dug deep. In a time where plays needed to be made on offense, the ghosts found a way to deliver. Osburn led off by reaching base after being hit by a Zuniga pitch. A triple by Parello scored him and the Spirits dugout was fired up. Mauldin followed with a single to score Parello, and the game was tied. McPherson reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Mauldin at second but Fischer kept the inning alive with a follow up single. Hackney was then hit by a pitch to load the bases and Murrah followed by reaching on an error that allowed McPherson to score. Sopocy then followed with an RBI sacrifice fly to add insurance when Fischer crossed the dish, and the Spirits held a 14 to 12 advantage heading into the game’s final half-inning after Hardt flew out.
“I was watching online driving my daughter to college in Indiana,” Lee mentioned. “We were going crazy in the car. I was yelling, ‘HANG ON FELLAS’ from 13 hours away, hoping that these guys wouldn’t just win, but wouldn’t have to figure out how or who would pitch tomorrow. They should a lot of resolve in that comeback.”
In the bottom frame and with their backs against the Wall, the White Sox started off with a ground out in the bottom of the seventh. A single by Affala provided some hope, and tensions grew after Osburn walked Sanchez. But for the Spirits, a best case scenario would have been for someone to make a play. And that they did. James Boggus grounded out to record the second out and the Spirits infield was able to pick Affala at third to end the game and to move on to the championship series.
Fischer finished with 3 hits and 3 runs scored, while Sopocy added 2 hits, 2 runs scored, 3 runs batted in, and a stolen bag. Osburn finished a perfect 2-for-2, adding 2 runs scored. Parello and Mauldin also finished with two hits each, with Parello adding a triple and Mauldin adding 2 runs batted in. Hardt finished with a triple, run scored, and run batted in, while Hackney and Murrah each added doubles. Hackney scored and added a run batted in while Murrah added 2 runs scored as well.
“These guys played their tails off,” Lee continued. “I only wish I had been there to watch it live. Incredibly proud of the way the battled back and forth against an obviously hungry White Sox team. Our only goal now is to finish the job.”
The Spirits advance to the championship series and it won’t be easy as they will once again face one of the top teams in the DFW metroplex, in the form of the Redbirds. The teams are scheduled to meet up in a best-of-three series starting next Saturday, August 19th at 9:00AM. Game two will start at 11:45AM, and if necessary, a third game will be played at 9:00AM on Sunday, August 20th. All games will be played at McInnish Park, Field #10.