As Bethesda Big Train manager Sal Colangelo sat on a picnic table late Tuesday night on the Carlo Crispino Stadium concourse, he took a deep breath and a small grin crept across his face.
“Well you can’t win every one because that’s baseball,” he said of the double elimination tournament. “If you win it all every year, it kind of gets boring. Obviously we wanted to get a fourth [straight] championship, but it was a great summer for the guys.”
Moments earlier, the Big Train’s three year reign atop the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League came to end with a 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Redbirds in the all-wood bat league’s title game on the Calvert Hall College High School campus in Baltimore.
Mississippi State product Hunter Renfroe, who established a new single season home run record for the league, gave third-seeded Bethesda (28-18) a brief early lead with a two-run home run to left field in the top of the first.
“In 14 years of doing this, Hunter Renfroe is the greatest position player ever to play in this league,” Colangelo said. “To hit 19 long balls in a year is unheard of.”
Second-seeded Baltimore (31-13), however, responded in the bottom of the inning as Sean Keselica (Virginia Tech) hit a solo home run to right. The Redbirds then tied the game during their ensuing at bat when Jack Carey (Wake Forest) belted a ball over the 365-foot sign in left center.
Baltimore secured the lead for good with two outs in the bottom of the third when Mark Zagunis, Keselica’s college teammate, hit a two-run home run.
Bethesda pulled within one in the fifth when Michael Bass (UNC-Wilmington) hit a solo home run down the left field line. It threatened again in the seventh with runners on first and second, but University of North Carolina reliever Trevor Kelly (3.1 innings, three hits, six strikeouts) struck out Renfroe with a slider on a full count.
Baltimore starting pitcher Andy Flett (Louisville) allowed six hits and one earned run over 5.2 innings. Big Train starter Jon Carlson (High Point) lasted just 3.2 innings and surrendered all four runs. Ethan Miller (San Diego State), who Colangelo praised for his development, and Will Resnick (High Point) combined to pitch 3.1 scoreless innings in relief with five strikeouts.
“It’s been a great time with all the coaches and players,” said second-year first baseman Adam Barry, a rising senior at Cal State-Northridge. “We all came together for a summer. It stinks to lose, but it was more about competing and learning some things.”
Bethesda, which finished last year atop the Perfect Game rankings for summer collegiate baseball, experienced turbulent season. Several key players that were projected to return to the roster this summer were selected in June’s Major League Baseball first-year player draft or did not participate due to injury, including, Michael Aldrete, Matt Bowman, Martin Agosta and Kelly Secrest. All were part of the Big Train’s dominant pitching staff a year ago.
As a result, the Big Train started the year (3-9) before the roster gelled. Prior to Tuesday night’s contest, Bethesda won an afternoon home elimination game, 10-5, against the Vienna River Dogs.
“These kids were resilient and that is a testament to the character they have and the programs they come from,” Colangelo said. “My heart goes all out to them and I will do anything I can to help them.
“They come play here in hopes of developing into a player that gets drafted. The way they learn how to hit the ball off a wood bat and the speed of the game all helps them become better ball players.”