By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — In the eighth inning, Nehemiah Wright (Grambling) smacked an 0-2 single to right field to score Kenny Bell (Southeastern Louisiana) to finally put the DC Grays on the scoreboard — a place they hadn't been all evening. In the ninth, Wright strolled to plate as the tying-run, but struck out looking on a questionable strike call that appeared to miss the zone high-and-away.
The Grays’ (2-4) trailed the entire way in a 6-4 loss to the Bethesda Big Train (8-1). The game was full of missed opportunities, missed pitches and a missed call in the guts of DC's attempt at a ninth inning comeback just two batters prior.
DC’s dugout stood up in unison to chirp at the first base umpire. A few players leaned over the dugout railing, and smacked it with closed and open palms. And Robbie Wacker (Emory) threw up a “safe” motion with his arms as he pleaded for an appeal before walking back to the dugout.
Wacker was still called out after grounding into a double play with the bases loaded, but had clearly beat the second baseman’s return throw by a step or two with Bell, who reached on an error and drove in a run, in the on-deck circle. Nonetheless the damage was done and the blown call halted the Grays’ momentum at a possible five-run comeback.
Had the Grays pushed any of their 11 baserunners across the plate in the earlier innings, had they picked up more than two hits in the first six innings, or had they not waited until the last three innings to inflict damage into Bethesda's pitching staff, maybe the blown calls wouldn’t have mattered.
Nine of DC’s 11 runners reached base in the seventh inning or later. Two came in the seventh, two more came in the eighth and the other five came in the final frame, where the Grays scored three of their four runs on Thursday night.
For a team with aspirations of a league championship at the end of the season, it knows that it can’t have more offensive showings like it did against Bethesda’s starter Noah Carabajal (Long Beach State) who threw five scoreless innings and only allowed two hits.
The pitching staff — especially Thursday’s starter Jake Davidson (Kenyon) who threw 4 ⅔ innings of three-run (one earned) ball — did all it could to keep the score at a manageable deficit. Tim Jinks (Drew) and Kai Cummings (Mount St. Mary’s) combined to allow just three runs in 5 ⅓ innings of work out of the bullpen.
Ryan Lynch (Notre Dame), who relieved Carabajal in the sixth, shut the offense down before the Grays broke through the pitching staff’s armor. Right fielder Sam Kaplan (Cornell), who paces the offense in numerous categories, led off the seventh inning with a base hit against the Big Train’s Zach Locke. Catcher Burke Camper (Towson) followed Kaplan’s knock with a single of his own and suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, the Grays were in business.
But Locke locked-in with the task at hand and struck Cam Bufford (Grambling) out on four pitches, forced Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond) into a flyout and got Patrick Vandenbergh (Lafayette) to line out to the perfectly shaded shortstop — that almost lifted the crowd to its feet — to end the frame with nothing to show in the score column.
But in the eighth, DC finally broke through on the scoreboard with Wright’s RBI single, and inched closer in the ninth inning.
Camper began the inning with a lead-off walk, which Bufford and Jay Tarkenton (Old Dominion) followed up with singles to load the bases with no outs. Vandenbergh drove Camper home with a perfectly-placed opposite field single that snuck through the hole between Bethesda's shortstop and third baseman.
And with the Grays trailing by four with no outs and the bases still loaded, Wacker drove in a run but was retired — on a throw he likely beat out — with the controversial 6-4-3 double play the Big Train turned.
DC pushed across its final run after Bell beat out an errant throw from Bethesda’s third baseman. And down to its last out, DC couldn’t catch a break from the home plate umpire who had called — what should have been ball two — strike three to Wright to end it.
The Grays look to get back in the win column when they host the Silver Spring T-Bolts on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.