The Bethesda Big Train advanced to the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League championship against the Baltimore Redbirds after defeating the Rockville Express 6-4 Thursday at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda.
Bethesda shortstop and leadoff hitter Stephen Alemais scored the deciding runs in the bottom of the sixth inning with a bases loaded opposite field double off Rockville reliever Corey Leszczynski, giving Bethesda a 6-3 lead and halting a Rockville rally.
“I was 0-for-3 before that at bat,” Alemais said. “I was just telling myself to calm down and try not to do too much and go the other way.”
The Big Train jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Express starter Rhyan Karr, thanks to a two-RBI double by first baseman Wes Rea. Catcher Albee Weiss scored another run in the second inning with a sacrifice fly.
Bethesda chased Karr after 3 2/3 innings. He struggled with command all night, giving up three runs on just two hits, but four walks.
On the other side, Big Train starter Jake Valdex was in command through the first four innings, before giving up a pair of home runs in the fifth. Express catcher Chris Miller launched a solo shot to left center and left fielder Romero Contina tied the game with a deep home run to dead center. Valdez completed five innings, allowing four hits and three runs, while striking out three.
But Big Train left fielder Chris Lewis answered with an RBI double to give his team a 4-3 lead.
After falling behind 6-3 on Alemais's double, the Express loaded the bases in the top of the seventh against Big Train reliever Josh Thorne. Express third baseman David Mahoney hit a one-out RBI single to left, but Thorne escaped by inducing a groundball double play from Express right fielder Lewis Guilbeau.
Thorne then pitched a scoreless eighth and Bethesda closer Andy Frakes notched the save with a one-two-three ninth inning, sending Big Train to play for the championship.
Big Train will now have to beat the two-time defending champion Baltimore Redbirds twice to regain the Ripken League crown, starting at 3 p.m. Friday at Kelley Field in Gaithersburg. Although Bethesda finished atop the regular season standings at 31-9, Baltimore got the best of them in the winner's bracket championship, 7-3, putting the pressure on Bethesda.
“We were much better at the plate tonight,” Bethesda manager Sal Colangelo said. “We weren't trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark, we were very disciplined, we weren't swinging at bad pitches. When we got our pitch and they made mistakes we made them pay...if we do the same thing (tomorrow night) we did tonight I like our chances.”