BETHESDA -- In a 15-inning marathon, the Bethesda Big Train tied the Alexandria Aces at the top of the division as they walked off the Aces 6-5.
Fans at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda knew that they were in for a great game as the top two teams in the Cal Ripken League, the Alexandria Aces and Bethesda Big Train, were set to face off. No one, however, could have predicted the classic game that would unfold.
The Big Train started the game strong, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Designated hitter Kevin Milam of St. Mary’s College of California doubled to right field, scoring shortstop Fox Semones from second. Right fielder James Outman of Sacramento State University advanced to third on the Milam hit. The next batter was third baseman Luke Heyer (University of Kentucky). Heyer drove in Outman and Milam as his hard ground ball got past the third baseman and into the outfield, giving the Big Train at 3-0 lead.
The Aces would respond in the top of the second, as right fielder Mack Nathanson drove in third baseman Eli Boggess from third on a sacrifice fly, making the score 3-1. In the top of the third, Boggess hit a deep fly ball that bounced off of the wall, bringing in runners from second and third, and tying the game at three.
However, just as the Aces responded to the Big Train runs, the Big Train would not wait long to jump back in front. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Big Train second baseman Vinny Esposito singled to center. Heyer came home from third, and slid under a tag from Aces catcher Nick Slaughter to score and put the Big Train in front, 4-3.
Pitching took over until the top of the seventh, where the Aces mounted a rally. Big Train left fielder Jordan Sergent lost a high pop fly in his direction in the bright Povich Field lights, allowing Aces’ second baseman Ray Zuberer to reach base. Big Train pitcher Matt Pulos would hit Slaughter with a pitch, setting the Aces up with runners on first and second. Aces first baseman Ethan Cady flew out to right, but Zuberer was able to advance to third on the deep fly ball; Slaughter remained at first. Boggess, the next batter, would hit what looked to be an inning-ending, double-play ball. The Big Train was able to get Slaughter out at second, but Boggess beat out the throw at first, a crucial hustle play, as Zuberer was able to score and thus tie the game at 4-4.
Despite chances from both the Aces and Big Train, neither team broke the tie in the eighth and ninth innings. The game thus proceeded to extra innings, the marathon just beginning.
Nash Eppard came in to pitch for the Big Train in the top of the 10th inning, and he would produce a strong performance in a long reliever role, pitching six innings, three of which only three Aces batters stepped to the plate.
“Coming in after all the guys had worked hard during the game, I knew I just had to throw strikes,” Eppard said of his strong performance. “My last few outings haven’t been as consistent as I want them to be. The first time I didn’t feel right was against the Aces at their place a few weeks ago, so it feels good to have redemption against them, throwing six innings with one run. I’m happy I could help the team out, and overall help get the win.”
While Eppard shut down the Aces bats, the Big Train offense was able to mount a couple of chances to score the winning run. The Big Train got a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the 10th and 11th, and in the 13th inning, when Big Train catcher Justin Morris led off with a double and advanced to third on a throwing error, it looked like the game was about to reach a dramatic conclusion. With no outs, all the Big Train needed was a sacrifice fly to the outfield to drive in Morris. Big Train center fielder Zach Jancarski would fly out on a foul ball that didn’t get past the infield for the first out. Semones stepped to plate next. The Big Train’s shortstop would hit a rocket line drive down the first base line, looking to be the winning base hit that the Big Train needed. However, it was not to be. Cady dove to his right and snatched the line drive right out of the air at full extension. Esposito, who had walked earlier in the inning, took off from first on contact. Cady did not realize that at first, but upon shouting from his teammates in the dugout, Cady tagged first, doubling off Esposito, ending the inning and the Big Train opportunity.
In the top of the 15th inning, the Aces finally broke through against Eppard, as Nathanson crushed an Eppard slider that caught too much of the plater over the left field wall for a solo home run, putting the Aces on top, 5-4. After Cady’s spectacular play at first, the momentum of the game had decidedly shifted to the Aces, and the Nathanson go-ahead home run seemed to seal the deal. The Big Train, however, would not go down quietly.
The first two batters for the Big Train in the bottom of the 15th were Jordan Sergent and Justin Morris, who grounded out to second and flew out to right, respectively. The situation appeared bleak for the Big Train with no runners on and two outs.
The next two batters, Esposito and Jancarski, would both reach base. Semones came up next, and he would reach on a walk, loading the bases. First baseman Logan Driscoll was next to the plate, and he would also walk, which forced in the tying run. With the winning run just 90 feet away, it was now all up to James Outman.
“After Logan got that walk,” Outman said after the game, “I told myself anything that was going to happen was extra at that point.”
Outman came into his at bat relaxed, but the ball hadn’t bounced his way throughout the game. Outman had hit the ball hard every single time he came to the plate during the game, but he hit the ball right at someone in each at bat. Despite how unlucky he seemed to be throughout the game, there was no other player the Big Train would want at the plate in that spot. Outman leads the Cal Ripken League in both home runs and RBIs. The Big Train right fielder did not hit the ball as hard as he had throughout the game in this at bat, hitting a blooper towards center field. The fans at Shirley Povich Field held their collective breath as the ball tantalizingly sailed through the air. Aces center fielder Alex Andronica charged hard on the ball, laying out to make a catch as the ball approached the ground. The Outman blooper would bounce of Andronica’s glove, but would fall to the turf for a base hit, enough for Esposito to come in from third, scoring the game-winning run. Over four and a half hours later, the Big Train had won, 6-5.
“We were just able to get lucky, have a ball squirt through and get the win,” Outman said.
Eppard was the winning pitcher, while Jacob Parker recorded the loss. The Big Train recorded six runs on 17 hits with four errors. The Aces scored five runs on 12 hits
with two errors. The Big Train (27-9) sits one game ahead of the Aces (25-9) in the South Division.