Through eight-plus innings Saturday night, the Bethesda Big Train baseball team trailed by a run and was frustrated with its inability to get a clutch hit.
The three-time defending Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League champion had failed to score twice — in the fifth and sixth innings — with the bases loaded and had stranded eight base runners in a first-round playoff game against the Alexandria Aces.
The Big Train's fortunes finally changed in the bottom of the eighth.
Hunter Renfroe (Mississippi State) reached on an error and was on second base with one out when Avondre Bollar (San Diego State) secured the team's first key hit — a soft RBI single to right field that tied the game at 2-2. Designated hitter Cole Norton (St. Mary's College, Calif.) drove a 2-1 fastball off Shirley Povich Field's center field wall for the game-winning RBI double.
The third-seeded Big Train defeated Alexandria, 3-2, and advanced to Sunday's double elimination round at the No. 2 Baltimore Redbirds, which had a first round-bye in the wood bat league's tournament.
“The whole offense was hitting the ball hard, but right at people all day,” said Norton, whose team managed eight hits. “It was just a matter of time before one of us got one to fall in. The whole season we've just battled.
“For me tonight, I got a fastball out over the middle of the plate and got a good swing on it.”
Alexandria (20-22), which was making its first postseason appearance, took an early 1-0 advantage when first baseman Chris Sweeney (King College) led off the top of the second with a home run on a full count.
Alexandria starting pitcher Colin Milon (6 innings, 5 hits, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, 1 run) was perfect through three innings before Bethesda (26-16) tied the game in the fourth. With runners on first and second and two outs, right fielder Colin Kish (Florida Southern) singled to center field to score Michael Bass (UNC-Wilmington).
The Aces regained the lead in the sixth when Big Train starter Ryan Doran (6 innings, 3 hits, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts, 2 runs) allowed a run when he was called for a balk.
Big Train reliever Ethan Miller, Doran's teammate at San Diego State, pitched three perfect innings with four strikeouts to earn the victory.
“This team has been through more injuries, adversity and ups and downs than any Big Train team ever,” said manager Sal Colangelo, whose team started the summer 3-9. “But it is the game of baseball. The guys believe. We've been here before and they know how to handle every situation. We got to go get two more [wins].”