In one sublime evening, the Baltimore Redbirds exorcised three years of demons, and on their home field in front of a full house of (mostly) their loyal fans, finally got to storm the pitchers mound in celebration while, for the first time in four seasons and in a twist only the baseball gods could write, the Bethesda Big Train looked on in envy. The scene played out after the Redbirds held on to a 4-3 win to capture the 2012 Cal Ripken League Championship.
The Big Train defeated the Vienna River Dogs, 10-5, early this afternoon to emerge from the Loser’s Bracket and face the Redbirds in the Championship Game for the fourth consecutive season. And despite playing one ballgame and traveling the nearly 60 miles from Povich Field to Calvert Hall for the next, Bethesda got on the board early when Hunter Renfroe (Mississippi State) launched a home run, scoring Brendan Hendriks (San Francisco), who reached on an error with two outs in the first inning. Renfroe, who set the League home run record during the regular season with 16, hit three more in the playoffs.
Sean Keselica (Virginia Tech) responded for the Redbirds with a solo home run in the bottom of the first and Jack Carey (Wake Forest) tied it with a solo bomb in the second. The ‘Birds would get all the rest of the runs they would need in the third, when eventual LCS-MVP Mark Zagunis (Virginia Tech) hit a two-run shot to put Baltimore up 4-2.
Michael Bass (UNC-Wilmington) inched the Big Train closer with a solo home run to left field that just stayed fair in the fifth inning, but Redbirds starter Andy Flett (Louisville) bore down to get the final two outs of the inning.
Flett finally wore out in the sixth and was relieved after plunking Renfroe and surrendering a two-out single to Cole Norton (St. Mary’s (Ca.)). But sidewinding Trevor Kelley (UNC) struck out Brennan Middleton (Tulane) to escape further damage.
Kelley was masterful, going the final 3.1 innings without allowing a run to get the save. He scattered three hits and struck out six batters, none more dramatically than the famed Renfroe in the seventh inning. Kelley got the first two outs in that inning in short order (by strikeout and groundout), but surrendered a pair of two-out singles to Adam Barry (Cal State Northridge) and Hendriks to allow Renfroe to come to the plate in a big spot. Kelley pitched around the slugger to a 3-0 count, and the crowd awaited the inevitable intentional walk. But the righty changed the script. He zipped two fastballs by a watching Renfroe to work the count back to 3-2 before throwing the pitch of the season for the Redbirds -- a slider that Renfroe swung at and missed for strike three and drove the crowd wild.
The Big Train never recovered. A one-out single by Avondre Bollar (San Diego State) was all they could muster against Kelley the rest of the way, though Ethan Miller (San Diego State) and Will Resnick (High Point) pitched well to keep Bethesda in the ballgame. Miller relieved starter Jon Carlson (High Point), who took the loss, and tossed 3.1 shutout innings with four strikeouts. Resnick pitched a scoreless eighth.
Flett pitched 5.2 solid innings for the Redbirds to get the Championship Game win. He worked effectively around six hits and a pair of walks, and only one of the three runs he allowed was earned.
Zagunis was named LCS MVP after collecting six hits in 14 total at-bats, including the game-winning two-run home run in the Championship Game. He also doubled twice and tripled in the Redbirds’ three LCS wins. Zagunis scored four runs, drove in five, and stole two bases in two attempts. He hit safely in all three games, scored at least a run in all three, and drove in at least one in all three. Kelley made a case for the honor, pitching 4.1 total innings of shutout relief for the Redbirds during the LCS. He allowed four hits but no walks and struck out seven.