(August 15, 2022 – Plano, TX) A small conversation about strategy and the lineup order turned out to be a great decision Monday night as the Spirits (45+) used a 6-run first inning alongside a 15-hit attack to advance to the semifinal round of the NTABL Master League playoffs.
“Will Nash and I had short discussion about the batting order prior to the game start,” mentioned team skipper, Shawn Lee following the game. “We talked some strategy and I moved his spot in the order. Man, did that prove to be a worthwhile move.”
Nash unleashed offensively, adding a 3-for-3 performance that included a double, a triple, run scored, and 6 runs batted in.
“He was in a zone,” Lee continued. “He didn’t just hit, he hit the ball hard. And when he hit the ball hard, there were guys on base. The perfect recipe. We couldn’t have drawn that up any better.”
It was actually the Reds who jumped off to the fast start first, claiming 3 runs in the top half of the inning after TK Hayes reached on a Spirits fielding error. Spirits starter, Mike Sopocy walked James Roberts and the Reds quickly had two on with nobody out. Sopocy rebounded and struck out Brett Baker, but Steven Nut followed with an RBI single good to score Hayes. Gary Jackson followed with a triple to the gap that send Roberts and Nutt to the dish before Sopocy and the defense were able to get Jeffrey Smith to fly out and Chris Duty to strikeout to end the inning.
The Spirits offense wasted no time jumping back into the game, winning the inning with 6 runs in the bottom of the first. Chris Allen drew a leadoff walk and a single by Eric McPherson put two runners on the bags. Kirk Sipila drew a walk to load the bases, and Travis Hitzeman popped out to the infield to record the first out. Lee followed up with a 2-RBI single to center and a walk to Sopocy loaded the bags a second time for Nash. Nash promptly doubled to the left side to clear the bags clean, and the Spirits had a 5 to 3 lead. Brian Hackney flew out, but a single by Earl German scored Nash and it was 6 to 3 before Lester Bedford flew out deep to right centerfield.
In the second, Sopocy was focused, adding another pair of strikeouts while setting the Reds in order. The Spirits offense then capitalized with another pair of runs in the second after Allen led things off with a single. McPherson drew a walk, but Reds starter, Stacy Scott was able to get Sipila to pop out to the Reds infield. Hitzman then followed after reaching on a fielder’s choice that squeezed McPherson at second and allowed Allen to move to third. Lee followed with an RBI single to score Allen. Hitzeman was able to cross the dish following an error by the Reds outfield, and the Spirits had an 8 to 3 advantage before Sopocy went down swinging.
Both teams went in order in the third, but the Reds turned on the rally when they added a 4-run fourth inning to cut the Spirits lead to, 8 to 7. Nutt reached on a Spirits fielding error and a double by Jackson scored him. Smith singled to score Jackson, and a single by Duty moved him to third. Smith was able to score on a wild pitch, and Sammy Vives followed by drawing a walk. Scott also walked to load the bags, and the Spirits decided to turn to German to relieve Sopocy, who seemingly lost what he had going on in the second and third innings. German picked up an out after Robert Bernardo reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Scott at second but allowed Duty to cross the dish. Hayes reached on a fielder’s choice that resulted in the RBI opportunity getting cut short after the Spirits relayed and were able to cut down Vives at home. German followed by striking otu Roberts to get the Spirits out of the inning.
“Really didn’t like that feeling in the fourth,” Lee continued. “We were playing well and we let them get a foot in and re-open the door. Mike told me he had strained his lower back after slipping on the mound during one of his deliveries and it was evident he was struggling with the zone. Earl came in and along with our defense, they both did a great job getting us out of that inning.”
The Spirits offense followed by putting up an other 6-spot on Scott and the Reds in the bottom half of the inning after David Tipton drew a one-out walk. Tipton swiped second base and later scored on a double by Allen. McPherson singled and stole second, and a single by Sipila scored both runners to make it 11 to 7, Spirits. Hitzeman singled to push Sipila to second but Lee flew out to record the second out of the inning. Sopocy kept it alive by drawing a walk to load them, and a triple by Nash put the nail in the coffin, clearing the bases and giving the Spirits a 14 to 7 lead before Hackney flew out to end the inning.
German kept the Reds quiet in the fifth and the Spirits offense returned for a pair of runs to get the mercy-rule walk-off after German walked and Bedford singled. Tipton followed with a single to load the bases, and Allen grounded out but it was good enough to score German. A single by McPherson plated both Bedford and Tipton and the game was over.
“Great job by the guys tonight,” Lee continued. “We took a couple of punches and both the offense responded and so did the defense when needed. If we can play like this each game, we’ll be hard to beat.”
The team has its hands full next Monday night when they visit the number one seeded Cardinals for a chance to advance to the Championship game. The Cardinals finished the regular season, with a 3-0 record against the ghosts, lining up an eerily similar scenario to the 2022 playoffs. In a similar circumstance in 2021, the Spirits followed the same path to upset the Cardinals and to capture the championship the previous year. Game time is scheduled for 6:30PM on Graham Field at Prestonwood Christian Academy. Click here for schedule details.