JOPLIN — The Chillicothe Mudcats college-level summer baseball team will try to match a season-best 3-game winning streak and return to the .500 mark in the MINK League for the first time in two weeks tonight when they wrap up a 3-game series at Joplin against the Outlaws.
Last night, in stark contrast to their fortunes against the Outlaws at home a couple weeks back, Mudcats pitchers were dealing for a second night in a row, holding Joplin to a single eighth-inning run in a 6-1 Chillicothe victory in league interdivision play. Chillicothe had won 2-1 the night before.
“We had good pitching and good defense again and hit just enough to score a few runs,” Mudcats first-year head coach Eric Peterson remarked this morning about win No. 11.
“I’ve told the guys that’s what need to do to be successful and they’re buying in.”
Although he allowed eight hits in 6-plus innings, Mudcats starting pitcher Ryan Lavoie
(2-1) held the Outlaws off the scoreboard until, after his departure, a bases-loaded walk issued by Aaron Hyder halted the shutout bid.
“He was getting strike one,” Peterson said in assessing his starter’s stint. “He struggled some in previous starts, getting into tough counts.”
When he got in a spot last night, the coach felt Lavoie rose to the occasion.
He competed better in tough situations,” Peterson lauded.
When that walk forced in the first Joplin run to make it 5-1 in the seventh, the potential tying run was at home plate. Righthander Hyder, who had also walked the first man he faced after coming in, found his bearings after a visit from head coach and pitching staff mentor Eric Peterson, a former college pitcher. He struck out the next two men – both tough hitters on the Mudcats when Joplin took two of three in Chillicothe June 7-9 – before first baseman Nate Arnold made a nice stretch to snag shortstop Ryan Busch's throw on Koby Chadick's 2-out grounder to strand three and keep the lead at 5-1
An inning-opening error and Arnold's third run batted in of the night on a 2-out single to center in the top of the eighth immediately restored the Mudcats' lead to five and relievers Matt Thomas and Ryan Brinley – Chillicothe's third and fourth hurlers of the night – set the Outlaws down in order in the eighth and ninth, respectively, to close it out.
Chillicothe improved to 11-10 overall and 9-10 in the MINK League. It remains in last place in the North Division by percentage points, but picked up a half-game on leader St. Joseph, which had another non-league win Wednesday. The Mudcats now are only a game back of the Mustangs, who have played a league-low 13 MINK games. With its sixth-straight loss last night, Joplin dropped to 9-12 overall and 8-12 in the league.
Page 2 of 3 - Tonight's scheduled series and Mudcats 6-game road-trip finale at the Joplin Athletics Complex will find Chillicothe sending lefthander Jeremy Perron (1-2) to the mound to try for the sweep and the team's second 3-game winning streak of 2012. Game time again is set for 7 p.m., but Peterson noted this morning there was some wet weather and threat of more in and around Joplin today. Because this is slated to be the Mudcats’ last trip to the south part of Missouri and Joplin already has played its three games in Chillicothe, every effort will be made to get tonight’s game in. Even with the Fish having to travel home after the game and with a home game slated for tomorrow night, that could mean waiting and starting late, if that is what’s needed.
The Mudcats will be back home at "June" Shaffer Memorial Park stadium Friday night to play the Clarinda (Iowa) A's. That will be the first of seven-straight home contests in six nights, including a Saturday evening 6:05 p.m. doubleheader with the Ozark Generals.
Chillicothe was retired in order only once in last night's triumph and might have scored more than six times with better baserunning. The Mudcats had one man picked off, another escape a pickoff-play rundown, and a third safely advance after being caught off first by Joplin lefthanded starting pitcher Drew Milligan. Twice Mudcats runners were doubled off on fly balls or line drives which were caught and another man was cut down at second trying to pick up an extra base at second when a throw on his single initially went to third base.
Those misadventures became mere footnotes because of the four runs Joplin's faulty defense helped provide and the strong pitching of the Chillicothe quartet of arms.
The Mudcats drew first blood in the fourth with so-called "small ball." Ryan Busch, who started the game hitting over .400 in league play, legged out an infield hit and was bunted to second by No. 4 hitter Ricky Martinez. A wild pitch advanced Busch to third where he alertly avoided being doubled off on a line drive to the shortstop. By doing so, he was in position to trot home when Tyler Duplantis back in the lineup at third base after consecutive games off, poked his second hit of the night through the right side.
Joplin's inability to execute bunt defense, something which has been a Mudcats problem at times, turned a close game into a less-tense contest in the top of the fifth.
After sub-.100-hitting catcher Ryne Morozowski singled off the third-base bag leading off, a Mitch Huckabay sacrifice bunt ended up with the batter joining the runner on base as the throw to first hit Huckabay for an error. Isaac Smith then attempted to sacrifice the men up to second and third, but tardy fielding of the bunt resulted in Smith beating the play at first for a hit and a bases-full, no-outs jam for Jopiln.
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