BETHESDA – It was the bottom of the eighth inning, and the Bethesda Big Train still had not scored a single run.
The sense of urgency that radiated from the Bethesda dugout on July 31 spoke to the importance of the game at hand.
It was Game Three of the League Championship Series in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, and the three-time defending champions from Bethesda trailed the Silver Spring–Takoma Thunderbolts 4-0 at Shirley Povich Field.
Just 48 hours earlier, the Thunderbolts had shut out the Big Train to take Game One, and it appeared that history was about to repeat itself.
This time, though, the Thunderbolts would not be winning just any old game. A title was at stake. If the Thunderbolts won, they would be taking a championship home to Silver Spring, a championship that had eluded them for 13 years.
Then, Bethesda outfielder Matt Thomas stepped calmly up to the plate and stared down Thunderbolts pitcher Tyler Dyball. Thomas knew what was coming next, and he was ready for it. The Big Train had two runners on base when Thomas slammed the ball the length of the field and over the scoreboard for the game’s only home run.
Suddenly, the team that had trailed for seven innings was back in the thick of things. Less than an hour later, Big Train players hoisted their fourth consecutive championship after completing the comeback and defeating Silver Spring–Takoma by a final score of 6-4.
“They’d been pitching backwards the whole day. They threw a first-pitch breaking ball, and I knew they were going to throw another one,” said Thomas of his three-run homer. “(Dyball) hung it, and it was just right down the middle.”
Thomas may have lit the spark for Bethesda late in the game, but the first seven innings belonged to the Thunderbolts.
Sophomore pitcher Alex Mykut exited to a standing ovation from the Thunderbolts fans at the bottom of the seventh after throwing more than 110 pitches and kept the Big Train scoreless after six innings; Bethesda did not get a single hit until the bottom of the sixth.
“Once I got in the game, I just do what I normally do,” said Mykut. “We just played as a team, and we fought hard today.”
Meanwhile, errors committed by the Bethesda and a strong start by Silver Spring–Takoma left the defending champions reeling. Infielder Anthony Gallo’s RBI double-set the Thunderbolts up with an early lead; however, the team clad in blue and white would not score another run until the top of the sixth, this time courtesy of infielder Ian McMillan.
“We just kind of got complacent a little bit midway through,” said Thunderbolts Head Coach Doug Remer. “You can’t do that against a nationally ranked team.”
It seemed that all Bethesda needed was a jolt, and after Thomas’s home run, the Big Train returned to form. Gio Diaz, a junior from St. Mary’s College of California, gave Bethesda its first lead of the night on a two-run single. Sophomore Christian Jayne from East Carolina University added another run shortly afterward.
Silver Spring–Takoma had one last chance to regain the lead and capture the championship at the top of the ninth.
However, Bethesda pitcher Chase Lee from the University of Alabama struck out three Thunderbolts in quick succession before the Bethesda dugout poured onto the field to celebrate its fourth consecutive championship victory.
Despite his team’s title game loss, Remer maintained that he would not change anything about the 2019 season.
“We were by far the toughest team to play against; I know the Big Train might have been the best team because they won the thing, but if you ask any coach, they didn’t want to play us. They’d have a tough time beating us,” said Remer. “We did the best we could; it was an awesome series.”
After the game, the Big Train players took turns posing for pictures with the trophy they had just earned. Thomas, however, carried an extra piece of hardware in his hands after being named Most Outstanding Player.
“This means a lot, but I can’t do this without my teammates,” said Thomas. “It’s definitely a special moment, but the biggest part about tonight was winning the championship with these guys.”
“Mr. Clutch, Mr. July, Matt Thomas – he’s amazing, he’s a great player. He knew what he was going to do if he got the ball. We knew our plan was to get the lead,” said Big Train Manager Sal Colangelo. “We just had to grind through it. We tell them from day one they have to play every pitch, every inning, until the last out. Once you do that, good things happen.”