(September 17, 2017 – Plano, TX) The Dallas Spirits (Trinity) edition of NTABL Fall Ball opened play by hosting the Braves this past Sunday afternoon at Graham Field. The Trinity Division team’s roster is made up from a host of players mostly from the summer season’s, Open American League Championship team. Having finished the summer session near the bottom of the standings, the Braves had their work cut out for them against a solid looking Spirits offense and defense.
With the fall season starting on the heels of the final summer ball game the Thursday before, the Spirits found themselves in a unique scenario without one of their talented starting pitchers, as one of their horses, Craig Molldrem was unavailable for the fall tip-off game. As a result, the Spirits turned to a few different position players to fill some substantial shoes on the hill. Team captain, John Showalter turned to utility man, Justin Anderson for starting honors and Anderson started the game off on the right foot for the Spirits by setting down the Braves in 1-2-3 fashion in the top of the first inning.
The Spirits half of the frame started well with lead off hitter, Cliff Brade sending the second pitch he saw to left field for a single. During the next two pitches, Brade did what he does best, steal bases, swiping both second and third to immediately put a runner in scoring position. Batting in the number two position, JP Seider followed up by taking the third pitch he saw to center field and deep enough for Brade to tag up on the play and score on the sacrifice fly. Catcher, Teddy Croft kept the inning rolling by reaching on a Braves fielding error and eventually stole second, however he was left stranded as Braves pitching was able to set down the next two Spirits hitters.
During the next three innings of play, the Spirits defense was successful at shutting down Braves hitting. Following Anderson’s three scoreless innings of pitching, Showalter turned to his center fielder, Brade for an additional solid inning of shut down pitching. The Braves remained solid as well, despite the 1 to 0 deficit, allowing only a few scattered hits, but no runs across the plate until the bottom of the fourth inning when the Spirits offense once again came alive. The bottom of the fourth inning started with a Braves pitching change and the first batter the newly appointed, hard-throwing pitcher faced was slugger, Collin Stacha. With a quick 0-2 count against him, Stacha took the next fastball he saw deep to the left-center field gap. The ball bounded off the turf and over the fence, resulting in a ground-rule double. Showalter followed the big hit with a line drive to right field, good enough to score Stacha. Showalter was able to advance to second on the Braves fielding error as the ball got away from the team’s right fielder and with the help of a combination of good contact hitting and a handful of untimely Braves fielding errors, the Spirits went on to push 2 additional runs across the dish before the end of the inning to take a 4 to 0 lead.
In the top of the fifth, Showalter called his own number for an opportunity to pitch. As it turns out, Ross Nussle finally broke offensive ice as he took an 0-1 pitch from Showalter into left field for the Braves first hit of the game. With the team no-hitter lost, Showalter settled in and went on to retire the next six Braves hitters he faced. Showalter then turned to Croft for mop-up duties and Croft also handled each of the hitters he faced in the top of the game’s final inning as the Spirits cruised to a 4 to 0 victory.
“Things were a little slow for us today,” noted Showalter after his team’s season-opening victory. “We were without a handful of arms today; guys we typically turn to for pitching, but I’m proud of the results we got today. (Justin) Anderson was solid for us today and is always willing to do whatever he’s asked to do. Cliff (Brade) looked good and showed a little arm strength out there, and fortunately I was able to get some pitches over the dish so my guys could pay defense. We didn’t get the tsunami of offense we’re typically used to seeing, but we’ll have some of our missing parts back in place for the next one and we look forward to the continue challenges that are presented to us.”