Friday 5-2 win over Southwest Elite also runs home regular-season, non-league win streak to two dozen
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE • It will be at least four years between regular-season non-league losses for the Chillicothe Mudcats college-level, wood-bat baseball team, but it required a comeback Friday night to assure that.
Hosting the Southwest Elite, a team of players from the Vernon, Jasper, and Newton county areas of southwest Missouri, for a second-straight night, the Mudcats trailed 2-1 midway through Friday's game at Chillicothe's "June" Shaffer Memorial Park stadium before posting an eventual 5-2 victory.
The triumph was Chillicothe's 24th in succession over regular-season, non-MINK League opponents, dating back to late June 2009. With the Mudcats' next non-league game not being until Independence Day, July 4, when they'll host the U.S. Military All-Stars, that means more than four years will have passed since some team other than a league opponent has defeated Chillicothe in the regular season.
A winning streak of equal length also was extended by Friday's Mudcats victory. It has won its last 24 non-league home games, a run which goes back over five years to early June 2008.
For the next couple of weeks, beginning with a Saturday night 6 o'clock doubleheader at Springfield's Meador Park against the Ozark Generals, the Fish will have nothing but MINK League action, a critical stretch as they attempt to overcome a 1-7 start in loop play.
"If we get back in position where we control our own destiny, that's where we would like to get to," Eric Peterson, second-year head coach of the Mudcats stated prior to the start of the road swing. "Part of that is playing .500 baseball on the road."
The Mudcats began that effort this past Wednesday with a win at St. Joseph and will try to continue it against the Generals and then at Joplin.
Chillicothe's scheduled starting pitchers in Saturday's twinbill are lefthander Collin Sherrod (0-1) of St. Edward's University, who'll make his Mudcats starting debut after taking a loss in relief Monday, and Isaac Horigan (1-0), the California righty via Orange City, Iowa's, Northwestern College Red Raiders.
They'll wrap up a 3-game set with the Generals in Springfield Sunday at 5 p.m. with righthander Tanner Irwin (1-0, 1.75) on the hill.
"Tanner's been our best pitcher so far," Mudcats head coach Eric Peterson said as he reviewed the weekend pitching plans following Friday's game.
After Sunday night, Chillicothe slides west along I-44 to Joplin for single games at historic Joe Becker Stadium Monday through Wednesday.
"It's hard to beat anybody on the road. If we… play .500 baseball (on the 6-games trip), I think we'd be happy with that coming home," Peterson expounded.
The Mudcats, 1-7 entering last weekend, go into this one only a game under .500 overall at 6-7. They've won three in a row and five of their last six, but four of those five victories have been outside the MINK League.
"If we're throwing right and we're throwing strikes and playing good defense, I thnk we can beat anybody in the league," asserted the Chillicothe head coach.
"We're going to come out and play hard, play our game right, play good defense, pitch the ball, and have timely hitting, which we've actually been getting lately."
Friday night's second-straight decision over Southwest Elite was keyed by Alex Gutierrez's 2-runs, 2-outs double in the home half of the fifth after Southwest Elite had plated two to go in front in the top half.
2011 Chillicothe High School graduate Zach Douglas, who got his first start of his first season with the Mudcats and had a very good game behind the plate, including throwing out a would-be basestealer at third base to end the top of the fourth inning when it still was a 0-0 game, started the winning rally.
Douglas was conked on the top of the helmet with an off-speed pitch leading off the fifth. David Zorn easily legged out a well-place drag bunt to make it two on, but a strikeout and soft groundout had Douglas and Zorn still on base with two outs when Gutierrez came up big.
Riding an 8-games hitting streak entering the contest, the righthanded-swinging former Illinois Central College infielder again displayed his opposite-field power, blasting a high drive just off the retreating right fielder's glove about 340 feet from home plate. When the ball wasn't hauled in, Gutierrez had a double, two RBIs, and a 9-games hitting streak and the Mudcats a 3-2 lead.
The righthanded-swinging corner infielder set ICC school records for career RBIs with 100 in his two years and with 22 doubles as a freshman in 2012 and tied the school mark for career doubles with 33. He easily leads the Mudcats in doubles (six) and extra-base hits (six) and is tied with A.J. Hermanson for the lead in runs batted in with nine while generating a .378 batting average currently.
Chillicothe, which finished Friday's game with a stunning five players owning batting averages of .400 or better and eight at .350 or better, as well as nine with on-base percentages of .400 or better and six with OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 1.000 or higher, tacked on insurance tallies in the sixth and eighth to provide the final 3-runs cushion.
In the sixth, Paul Trenhaile of Hannibal and Truman State bombed a standup triple to the warning track in right-center field and waltzed home on Tyler Langley's single to the left of the shortstop. The eighth-inning tally came when Trenhaile singled, stole second, aggressively moved to third on a 1-out bouncer to shortstop, and scored without a play on a passed ball.
The Mudcats had broken the game's scoring ice in the bottom of the fourth when Austin Bello yanked a leadoff double down the right-field line, advanced to third on Kevin Magill's 1-out fly to right, and scored as Langley beat out a tap up the third-base line.
"We're getting 2-outs hits and scoring runners in scoring position. That helps," said Peterson of the team's 5-2 surge over the previous seven days, during which it scored 57 runs in seven games, an average of more than eight a contest.
Statistically Friday, the pitching win went to Chillicothe starter Vin Roth (2-0), even though he wasn't particularly sharp with his control. He needed 84 pitches to navigate 5-2/3 innings, but limited the Southwest Elite damage to just the two fifth-inning runs.
The lefthander gave way to Truman State University's Mark Roberts with two outs in the sixth and the reliever from Illinois took it from there for his second save. Roberts, who stranded both runners he inherited in the sixth when it still was a 3-2 game, wound up going 3-1/3 1-hit innings.
Chillicothe out-hit Southwest Elite 8-6 with right fielder Tyler Langley's two hits and two runs batted in and Gutierrez's two RBIs pacing the attack. Trenhaile also had two hits as he pushed his batting average over .400. No Elite batter had more than one hit.
Each club committed only one error, neither of which figured in the scoring.