SILVER SPRING – A standing-room-only crowd was on hand at Montgomery Blair Stadium on July 30 as the Bethesda Big Train and the Silver Spring –Takoma Thunderbolts faced off in Game Two of the best-of-three series to determine the champion of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League.
The path that each team took to the League Championship Series could not have been more different. The Big Train are three-time defending champions and have been featured in the title game for 11 consecutive years. In contrast, the Thunderbolts have not won a championship since 2006 and lost seven out of eight games against Bethesda in 2019.
Game One had taken place at Shirley Povich Field, Bethesda’s turf, on July 29. The stars aligned for Silver Spring–Takoma, and pitcher Nicholas Charleson, as the junior from Queens University of Charlotte pitched seven shutout innings. Infielder Lucas Donlon from Virginia Tech went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, and the Thunderbolts cruised to a 9-0 statement-making victory to open the series.
A win in Game Two, on their home field and in front of a capacity crowd, would have been a storybook ending to the season for the Thunderbolts. The Big Train, however, had other plans. An emotional game resulted in a 6-3 Bethesda victory and a guaranteed Game Three back at Shirley Povich Field.
“We definitely didn’t like the way that the last game tasted,” said Bethesda outfielder Drew Hamrock. “I know (Manager) Sal (Colangelo) got into us last night and really challenged us to come out tonight and take care of business and bring it back to our place.”
Hamrock took Colangelo’s words to heart, and that motivation was on full display at the top of the seventh when the score was knotted at three runs apiece. The sophomore from the University of Virginia fired the ball the length of the field, and Hamrock’s teammate Kobe Kato raced home for the go-ahead run.
In stark contrast to the previous game, Silver Spring-Takoma never led in Game Two. Bethesda pitcher Dalton Ponce kept his opponent scoreless until the fourth inning, when Donlon put the Thunderbolts on the board on an RBI groundout.
Then, Silver Spring–Takoma outfielder Brady Pearre slammed a two-run homer over the fence to tie the game. The stalemate lasted for an entire inning, and the warring cheers from the crowd reached a fever pitch. Emotions ran high on the field after a pair of Big Train players appeared to get hit by a pitch.
When Bethesda pitcher Elliot Zoellner took his spot on the mound at the bottom of the seventh, though, he was not derailed by the on-field arguments or the game’s importance. The bases were loaded, but Zoellner struck out batter after batter and made sure that not a single Thunderbolt made it across home plate.
“There’s always pressure, but I know my teammates have my back and I can trust them with anything,” said Zoellner. “I just get more amped up.”
A quiet eighth inning led to another run for Bethesda at the top of the ninth, courtesy of sophomore Matt Thomas. Big Train pitcher Chase Lee took over for Zoellner to close out the game and sent Bethesda into Game Three on a high note.
“When you play a team as good as the Big Train, you have to play a crisp game. Last night we went out, we pitched, we played defense and we hit. Tonight, it was kind of mediocre, and you can’t do that to a good team,” said Silver Spring–Takoma Head Coach Doug Remer. “We still were in the game, but we had to capitalize on certain situations and we didn’t, and that’s how you lose in this sport.”
Both Zoellner and Hamrock appeared confident heading into Game Three on their home field.
“We’re going to come out and take care of business. We’ve got our guys on the mound, and we’re going to come out and take care of it at our place tomorrow,” said Hamrock.
“We’ll win tomorrow. We’re going to get it,” said Zoellner. “We’re the Big Train.”
Reporter Harry Lichtman contributed to this story.