ST. JOSEPH — Although it ultimately might not have made any difference, the Chillicothe Mudcats came within a couple of pitches or plays of heading into the final 10 days of the 2012 MINK League college-level, wood-bat baseball season with a 12-game winning streak and at least a more-realistic hope of yet overtaking the St. Joseph Mustangs in the league’s North Division title chase.
Instead, they might be only a couple of days away from elimination in the league playoffs race.
For a second-straight night Saturday, a doubleheader sweep of a North Division foe – this time the team they are desperately chasing – ended up tantalizingly, frustratingly out of the Chillicothe Mudcats’ reach.
As happened against the Omaha Diamond Spirit on the road Friday, the Mudcats on Saturday followed an impressive game one win in last night’s twinbill at division-leading St. Joseph with a low-scoring nightcap which, despite earlier chances to take a firm grip on, they lost in the opponent’s final at-bat, this time a 1-0 loss to the Mustangs on the heels of a 7-3 game one victoryat Phil Welch Stadium.
The split kept St. Joseph 61⁄2 games ahead of the second-place Mudcats with the Mustangs having only 11 more league games to play. That makes St. Joseph’s “magic number” to clinch a second North crown in a row a mere four, both in relation to Chillicothe and the Clarinda (Iowa) A’s, who lost to Sedalia Saturday. Any combination of Mustangs wins and losses by their distant pursuers totaling four will wrap up the division title for St. Joseph and put it in the MINK League’s best-of-3 championship series against the South division representative later this month.
Saturday’s divided doubleheader again left Chillicothe precisely at .500 in league play this season, 17-17. St. Joseph moved to 22-9 in the loop and
27-9 overall. The Mudcats now stand 23-17 in all games.
Chillicothe does not have a game scheduled Sunday. It will return to action Monday, starting a 3-game home series with current South leader Nevada at 7:05 p.m. The Mudcats and Griffons will meet Monday through Wednesday nights at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park in east Chillicothe. Nevada won two of the teams’ three games at Nevada last month.
Saturday’s opening game quickly turned Chillicothe’s way when game-opening doubles by Taylor Johnson and Tyler Duplantis provided a 1-0 lead. A 2-out walk to Levi Grassley of Cameron, a dropped deep fly ball by Mitch Huckabay, and Izaak Silva’s first of two RBI singles made it a 3-run Mudcats first.
Silva’s RBI hit in the third scored Ryan Busch, who had doubled to begin the inning, for a 4-0 advantage. Duplantis’ fielder’s choice in the fourth plated Ricky Martinez for a 5-run cushion.
In the Fish’s sixth, they scored what turned out to be two welcomed insurance runs. Martinez’s double up the alley in right-center field scored Kevin Barker, who’d reached on an error, and Johnson’s 1-out single plated Martinez.
Down 7-0, St. Joseph made a bid to knock out Chillicothe starting and winning pitcher Jamie Bittle (2-2), who had blanked the Mustangs on one hit through five innings.
Back-to-back singles started the inning and were followed by Jordan Guida’s RBI double to left, ending the shutout. Allowed by head coach Eric Peterson to stay in, Bittle responded by striking out the next two batters, but Jake Kretzer also doubled, knocking in two and cutting the gap to four runs. Had it not been for the two runs in the top half of the inning, the Mudcats’ lead could have been down to two, although Peterson certainly might have made different pitching decisions in the inning if it had been 5-0 and not 7-0 at inning’s start.