NEVADA — On the heels of their 6-1 victory over the same foe the night before, the Chillicothe Mudcats put themselves in great position to try for a 3-game sweep of the MINK?League’s top team thus far in 2012 early in last evening’s middle game of the set.
However, the host Nevada Griffons demonstrated to the Mudcats why they’ve already claimed 11 league wins in only 15 games, coming back from a 4-1 deficit after 11⁄2 innings to catch the Mudcats twice and then overtake them in walk-off fashion 6-5 at Lyons Park.
After M.J. Sartin’s home run in the bottom of the eighth negated the go-ahead run the Mudcats had scored in the top half of the inning on Andy?Westfall’s infield hit, Nevada loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth on a single to right field, a walk, and a bunt single.
With Chillicothe head coach Eric Peterson shifting to a 5-infielder defensive look, Josh Samuelson hit a fly ball deep enough to right-center field to score A.J. Krist with the winning run as the Mudcats’ bid for a 3-game winning streak fell short.
“We played well,” Mudcats head coach?Eric Peterson commented to the C-T this morning. “They had a big hit in the eighth with the home run to tie it up again after we’d re-taken the lead.
“There are games you lose, but there also are games where you play well and the other team just ends up beating you. That was what happened last night.?They just scored one more run than us.”
The Griffons’ come-from-behind triumph makes this evening’s 7 p.m. game at Nevada the rubber match of the series, the first of two 3-game sets Chillicothe will have in southwest Missouri during this road swing.
Prior to facing Joplin tomorrow night through Thursday, the Mudcats will send University of Evansville sophomore lefthander Cole Isom (2-0) to the mound tonight to try to capture the series from a team which has several players back from last year’s third-place finisher in the National?Baseball?Congress World Series.
Last night’s game looked to be headed for Chillicothe’s wins column when its 4-run second inning gave it a 3-run lead and starting pitcher Jamie Bittle nursed a 4-2 advantage into the seventh.
However, a pair of singles set the table for the heart of the Nevada batting order, which heretofore had been mostly quiet in the first 15 innings between the clubs in 2012.
After Friday night winner Sam?Wood had held the Griffons’ Nos. 2-4 batters – including .400-plus-hitting first baseman A.J.?Krist – to an 0-for-12 showing, Bittle had limited the same spots in the lineup – although with a different cleanup man last night – to a composite 2-for-8 the first three times through the order. Time No. 4 would be different.
Page 2 of 2 - With men at the corners and one out in the seventh, Krist lashed a drive to center field that Mudcats flyhawk?Isaac?Smith chased down to save bigger damage, but Stuart Jeck easily tagged at third base and scored to cut the Mudcats’ lead to one, 4-3.
Designated hitter Rick?Hepworth – like Krist a key cog in last year’s?Nevada success in the NBC?World Series – stepped into the batter’s box with the tying run at first and two outs, having gone hitless with four strikeouts and two foul outs in his first seven plate appearances in the series.
This time, though, he found a Bittle 2-2 pitch to his liking and ripped a double into the gap in right-center field. With two outs, Eric Sousanes was able to score from first base relatively easily and Chillicothe’s long-held lead had disappeared.
Bittle’s night was over, but not his team’s.
Aaron?Hyder got the Mudcats to the dugout still tied and that looked like it might be critical when the Chillicothe offense pieced together just enough to regain a slender lead in the top of the eighth.
Levi Grassley of Cameron, whose two first-inning errors had put Nevada on the scoreboard first, drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to open the visitors’ eighth. On a hit-and-run, Tyler Duplantis could not reach an outside pitch to protect Grassley, but that worked out all right as the runner beat the play at second for a stolen base.