With seven regular season Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League titles in 10 years — including the 2014 crown — plus three consecutive postseason tournament titles from 2009-11, the Bethesda Big Train is often referred to as the New York Yankees of summer league ball. And while that’s mostly a compliment, team manager Sal Colangelo admitted it comes with its share of pressure.
Saturday, for the third consecutive year, Bethesda fell just short of a CRCBL Championship Series victory with a 7-0 loss to the Baltimore Redbirds in a game held at the Big Train’s Shirley Povich Field. It was the sixth consecutive year that the two teams met in the series final. The Big Train won the first three and Saturday marked Baltimore’s third straight title.
“If I was a betting man, I’d bet on these two teams to be in the finals again next year,” Colangelo said. “Six years in a row we’ve played them. It’s three and three. These are two of the best teams here. They’re a great team with great players and hats off to them, they beat us. Point blank. We didn’t get it done.”
But, after being sent to the losers’ bracket with a loss to the Redbirds Wednesday, Bethesda (league-best 31-9 record during regular season) defeated Baltimore (25-15) Friday in a must-win game to force Saturday’s deciding contest.
“It shows the character these guys have,” Colangelo said. “When you win 30 something games to win the regular season title, and that’s our goal every year, your championship — as a family and an organization — is to win the regular season, but when you lose [in the postseason], teams can fold quick. These kids have character and they’re not going to do that.”
Bethesda entered Saturday’s game without three of its top starting pitchers — Kit Scheetz (Virginia Tech) and J.P. France (Tulane) went back to their respective college programs while Andy Frakes was sidelined with injury. But Colangelo said the Big Train’s pitching rotation was deep enough to carry the team. Left-handed Brandon Rhodes, a rising junior at Florida Atlantic University, got the start. He gave up nine hits in 5 2/3 innings before Tim Yandel came in to finish the game and gave up four hits.
The game remained scoreless through three innings but timely hits — Baltimore tallied 14 to Bethesda’s five — gave the Redbirds the spark they needed in the final few innings. Colangelo said that was the biggest difference. Bethesda gave up only three hits to Baltimore in Friday’s win.
“We got [three] hits in our previous game, our bats came alive [Saturday], we made the adjustments at the plate and were able to find holes in the field,” said Baltimore’s Mac Caples, who hit a two-run home run.
Baltimore’s scoring started in the top of the fourth inning when Garrett Hudson singled to left field. He was moved to third base by Nick Cieri’s single to right field and then was sent home on a JB Woodman sacrifice fly. The Redbirds added another run in the fifth inning when Lee Lipinski doubled on two outs and then scored on Mike Parsons’ single to center field.
A three-run sixth inning highlighted by Caples’ homer broke the game open — Woodman’s hit to left field was misplayed, allowing Cieri to score; Woodman scored on Caples hit over the fence. Woodman’s single up the middle started a two-run, two-out rally in the top of the eighth inning that really put the game out of Bethesda’s reach. Woodman and Cody Sherlin, who doubled, scored on Caples’ hit over third base.
Bethesda had its chances to at least get on the scoreboard but stranded seven runners Saturday. Nevertheless, Colangelo said he was pleased with another great regular season title run and looks forward to the return of several players for another go at a championship in 2015. The Big Train is well-known for the support of its community and the family atmosphere, and that, coupled with its perennial success, is what helps the organization draw some of the country’s best talent, Colangelo said.
“[Baltimore] hit our mistakes,” Colangelo said. “When we threw pitches we shouldn’t have they hit them and they hit them with runners in scoring position. When we had base hits, we didn’t have runners in scoring position. But that’s what teams with great players do. ... We had a lot of people back this year and we have a lot coming back next year.
“At the start of the [next] season I’m sure teams will look at us as the team to beat. Just like every year. [People call us] the Yankees of summer league baseball.”
Baltimore Redbirds 0 0 0 1 1 3 0 2 0 — 7
Bethesda Big Train 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0
WP — Mat Pirro
LP — Brandon Rhodes