BETHESDA — For the ninth straight year in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, the Championship Series features the same two opponents: the Bethesda Big Train and Baltimore Redbirds. Saturday night’s Game One at Shirley Povich Field showed this to be a true championship rivalry, as the Big Train came from behind in the eighth to beat the Redbirds 9-8.
The first score came from Baltimore in the top of the second when designated hitter Christian Hlinka hit an RBI single to drive in third baseman Tim Elko for a 1-0 lead.
However, in the next frame, Bethesda responded with a two-RBI single from catcher Ben Martz. The Big Train put up two more runs in the third and fourth innings thanks to an RBI double from third baseman Carson Taylor and a sacrifice double play from outfielder Jacob Westerman that sent home first baseman Alec Burleson. At that point, the Big Train led 4-1.
But the Redbirds didn’t back down, because in the top of the fifth, Elko hit an RBI single to left field that drove in outfielder Carl Gindl. Then Hlinka tied it up at 4-4 with a two-RBI double that scored Elko and first baseman Joe Zirolli.
The next inning, shortstop Anthony Servideo gave the Redbirds their first lead at 5-4 with a home run to deep right field. Catcher Will Harless extended Baltimore’s lead to 6-4 one inning later when he singled to right field and sent home second baseman Michael Richardson.
However, Bethesda once again showed their resilience in the bottom of the seventh. Burleson, the best player in the Ripken League, hit an RBI double that drove in shortstop AJ Lee. Then Baltimore pitcher Austin Love walked Big Train designated hitter Jacob Southern with the bases loaded and outfielder Tyler Villaroman scored to tie the game at 6-6.
But the Redbirds responded in the top of the eighth with back-to-back homers from Servideo and outfielder Alex Tappen. It looked like they would come into Bethesda and take Game One.
Or so they thought.
In the bottom half of the eighth inning, Love had allowed three Bethesda batters on base. This led to Villaroman hitting a sacrifice groundout that sent home Martz and cut the deficit to 8-7. Love was then taken out in favor of Aaron McGeorge.
It didn’t get any better for the Redbirds, though, because Taylor gave the Big Train another sacrifice groundout that drove in Lee as the game-tying run.
Then, the next at-bat came, as Burleson came through with an RBI single that drove in second baseman Fox Semones for the 9-8 lead.
“We worked hard for this moment,” Burleson said. “We worked hard all summer, we deserve it, and I’m glad that I was the guy in the situation, and we needed to get the hit and I’m glad I’d be the guy to do it.”
Gavin Hinchcliffe secured the save for Bethesda.
“It is what it is,” said Redbirds manager Tom Eller. “It’s not that big of a deal. We haven’t lost that many games this year.”
Burleson continued to play like an MVP as he went an impressive 4-for-5 at the plate with an RBI and a run. He also felt confident about Game Two in Baltimore.
“We won’t need Game Three,” Burleson said. “But it’ll be awesome when we win tomorrow. We’ve earned it. We know we’re the better team.”
This game was very similar to the regular season meeting between the two on July 7, where Bethesda also came from behind in the eighth to beat the Redbirds.
“It’s just another game,” said Big Train manager Sal Colangelo.
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