Grays-in in the Grass Tonight at Blair: The Thunderbolts Take on DC in Game One of CRCBL Semi-Finals

The Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts will take on the winner of one of the two Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League’s play-in games last night, the DC Grays. The first game is at Blair tonight at 7 pm; the second game is at the Nats Academy in Southeast Washington at 7, and if a third game is necessary, it will be played at Blair Stadium, Sunday, at 6 pm.

All games will be broadcast on the T-Bolts Radio Network.

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The Grays, as home team, defeated the Gaithersburg Giants at Criswell Automotive Field, Thursday night, 6-5, after grabbing an early 5-0 lead and then holding on for the win. With the score at 5-3, the Grays had to escape a last-ditch rally in the top of the ninth that saw the Giants score two runs to shrink the Grays lead to 6-5. The tying run was on second with two out and LSU’s Cade Doughty (3-5, 1 HR) at the plate. Grays relief pitcher Noah Short struck him out on a 2-2 pitch, preserving the Grays first playoff victory.

In the other play-in game, the Alexandria Aces beat the FCA Braves at South County Field in Lorton, 6-4. That game, too, went to the bottom of the ninth when the Braves mounted a last-ditch rally but fell short. The Aces move on to play the Bethesda Big Train tonight at Shirley Povich at 7 pm.

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The Bolts and Grays have played eight times this season with the Bolts holding the clear advantage in wins, 6-2. The Bolts have won all four games at Blair, and two of four at the Nats Baseball Academy. For the Grays, slugger Justin Wylie (Louisiana-Lafayette), who is hitting .380, is out with an injury, and star pitcher Reid McLaughlin (BYU) is now in the Cape Cod League. In addition, an apparent injury to star two-way player Austin Deming (BYU) last night could remove a .315 hitter and a 1-0, 1.80 ERA pitcher from the lineup.

The Bolts come into the Semi-Final Series on the heels of a 10-7 loss to the Bethesda Big Train on Wednesday evening, a continuation of a suspended game from last Sunday. Both teams had solidified their positions in the standings, so the game had no effect on playoff positioning but did contribute to team and player regular season statistics.

The Grays have an advantage in pitching with a staff ERA of 5.50 to the Thunderbolts 6.36. With McLaughlin out and Deming possibly hurt, their leading pitcher now appears to be righty Magnus Ellerts (Harford CC), with a 1-1 record (the win and loss coming against the T-Bolts), and a measly 1.45 ERA. Amazingly, he has only yielded two earned runs in his 12.1 innings, while striking out 18, and walking only seven. Another right hander, Rasesh Pandya (Wofford College), is 0-1 with a 3.76 ERA and has struck out 16 while walking seven. His loss was against the T-Bolts. Cam Fowler (U of Nebraska, Omaha), while 2-3 on the season with a 6.21 ERA, bested the Thunderbolts on June 30, with an eight-inning, no run, two-hit performance in a 4-1 victory. His other appearance was in a 9-8 Grays win at DC Academy on July 9, going four innings, allowing four runs on six hits.

Fowler was great last night and won the play-in game at Gaithersburg going seven innings and allowing only one earned run, while walking two, and striking out eight. He threw 107 pitches in his seven-inning stint.

Another pitcher to watch is Kyle Subers (Lafayette College), a right hander who is 4-0 this season with a 4.82 ERA in 28 innings pitched. He has struck out 35 and walked 25. The rest of the Grays staff is formidable and the pitching is better than the records indicate.

The Grays have named Jake Lewis (Eastern Kentucky U) as their starter. He is 1-3 on the season with a 4.50 ERA. He has appeared in seven games (started five), pitched 32 innings, and has walked 32 and struck out 14. He was on the mound for the Grays critical 8-4 win over the Bethesda Big Train July 23, facing nine batters in two innings, and giving up one earned run. He faced the T-Bolts at Blair on June 12, going six innings and giving up two runs on five hits. He took the loss as the T-Bolts and Luke Rettig shut out the Grays, 5-0.

With some of their big blasters out, the offense will look to Noah Searcy (Georgia Southern U) who is hitting .355 with six doubles, one triple, and four home runs. Two of those home runs came in one game against the T-Bolts at Nats Academy. Searcy has a made a cottage career out of hitting against the T-Bolts, going 12/24 with three doubles to accompany his two home runs.

DaVonn Griffin

DaVonn Griffin

But the T-Bolts are not without offensive weapons of their own. The team is hitting .272 (the Grays are at .252), and the T-Bolts have outscored the Grays, both in the season series, 56-41, and overall, 207-184. The Grays have hit more home runs, 30-26, and have committed fewer errors, 42-49. DaVonn Griffin (James Madison) has four multiple-hit games against the Grays this season, and Lucas Donlon (Virginia Tech) is hitting .300 (7/21) .

Other Bolts weapons include infielder/outfielder Tony Gallo (Lehigh), hitting .364, who is having a potential MVP season, and is the team’s home run and RBI leader. Infielder/Outfielder/Piticher Brady Pearre (High Point U), catcher/DH Luke Trainer (Millersville), and infielder/outfielder Lyle Miller-Green are also over .300 with infielder Ian McMillan (U of Houston), catcher/DH Tyler Murray (U of Hawaii), and outfielder/DH Corey Rosier (Chipola College), not far behind.

Infielder Ryan Roell (Frostburg State) is second on the team in RBIs and home runs and is always a long ball threat at the plate. Versatile infielder Daulton Martin is also in the mix as is infielder Dom Ford (Queens University of Charlotte) who has found his swing and is producing hits (and steals) with regularity.

Outfielders Jack Schroeder (VCU), Cole Freise (Millersville) and Quinn McKenna (Lehigh) are also ready as is catcher Chris Brady (Queens University of Charlotte). Schroeder went 2/2 with a double against the Grays on July 9; McKenna launched one of the most monstrous home runs seen in recent years at Blair Wednesday night qgainst the Big Train when his two-run shot cleared the firehouse beyond the left field fence. Freise scored a critical run in the July 19 9-7 victory over the Grays at Blair, and Brady knocked in three RBIs and scored a run against the Grays in Mykut’s 8-1 road victory.

The biggest issue for the Thunderbolts tonight, as it’s been all season, is the number of walks the pitching staff has issued—261 walks (nearly seven a game), the highest in the League. The Grays staff has issued 199. The T-Bolts are going to have to cut down the number of free passes they tend to award in order to keep runners off the bases for dangerous Grays hitters.

Alex Mykut

Alex Mykut

T-Bolts Head Coach Doug Remer has named right-hander Alex Mykut (Millersville) as tonight’s starter. Mykut is 1-1 with one save and has a 6.26 ERA in 23 innings. He has started four games, one of which was a masterpiece at Nats Academy where he went five innings, gave up no runs, allowed one hit, and walked two, while striking out six. Outside of a four-walk game against the Alexandria Aces, Mykut is a low walk pitcher. That, plus his victory over the Grays, is perhaps why he earned the start.

If Mykut falters, or even if he turns in a fine three to four innings performance, the Bolts won’t hesitate to bring in additional pitchers, both starters and relievers, to stem the tide as it’s the time of the year when all hands are on deck.

Predictions? Last night, I was sort of 2/2. I had predicted a Grays win and had the Braves over the Aces but allowed that the Aces were in prime position for a not surprising upset.

Fortunately, for both teams, this is a best of three, allowing for a comeback from one less than stellar performance, and will benefit the stronger team in the end. With some top players out for the Grays, it was a remarkable team win over the Giants in the play-in game. But the T-Bolts are not the Giants, they are a better team, particularly on offense.

I don’t think the Grays can score enough runs to match the T-Bolts who did well against them all season, both at the Nats Academy and at Blair. The Grays pitchers will need to shut down the Bolts offense, wait for runners to get on base, and then deliver in the clutch. If the Grays triumph, it will be in relatively low-scoring, tightly-pitched contests, like their 4-1 triumph over the Bolts at Nats Academy on June 30. But they can also win in high scoring games as evidenced in a 9-8 win over the Bolts at Nats Academy on July 9.

If the Bolts offense can push across seven runs or more, their pitching should hold up for the win. But one thing these two teams do to each other is launch incredible late-inning comebacks. As League reporter Matt Cohen noted on the Ripken League website, the Grays have seen the Bolts come back from three different late-inning leads. And the Bolts returned the favor on July 9 when they took an 8-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth of a seven-inning game at the Nats Academy, only to have the Grays stage a five-run comeback featuring two doubles and a three-run home run from Austin Deming to give the Grays that 9-8 win.

Taking everything into account, it’s going to be a thrilling series, going down to the last pitch, but I see the Bolts winning the series, 2-1, as they should hold service at Blair where they have played extremely well this season. If they lose tonight’s opening game on their home field, their path to victory gets much more difficult, though not impossible.

The Grays are coming off a big win against Gaithersburg—their first playoff victory—and will have a huge head of steam. The Bolts will have to shut that down, not fall behind early, and make Grays runners earn their way on base. Their offense can’t disappear during the middle innings and they’ll have to drive in men on base when they have the opportunity.

Should be a great game. Hope to see you there.