Usually used as setup man, reliever rescues closer in 4-2 Chillicothe MINK League victory Saturday.
By PAUL STURM, Constitution-Tribune Sports Editor
The Chillicothe Mudcats cut it close – almost too close – Saturday night.
Desperately needing to hold onto a ninth-inning lead since the St. Joseph Mustangs, the team they are chasing in the MINK League’s North Division, was in the process of sweepinga second-straight doubleheader, the Mudcats saw visiting Joplin put the potential tying run in scoring position and possible winner on base in the ninth before Josh Guerra rode in to save them from the Outlaws.
After still-struggling closer Adam Falcon walked the bases loaded after fanning the first batter in the top of the ninth, Guerra came on to get a strikeout and a fly out to preserve the 4-2 Chillicothe victory July 12.
That meant the division-title contenders had swapped 4-2 victories over consecutive nights. Unfortunately for the Mudcats, they had received no help in their pennant chase, while Joplin did.
Saturday night's nervous victory could not prevent Chillicothe from losing further ground in the league's North Division race as division-leading St. Joseph swept a home doubleheader for a second-straight night, this time against the Branson Nationals. Coupled with Friday's sweep, St. Joseph's Mustangs carry a 2-games lead into Sunday's play after beginning the weekend tied with Chillicothe.
Joplin meanwhile received aid in the form of a Clarinda A's triumph over South leader Sedalia Saturday. That kept the Outlaws a half-game back of the Bombers despite their defeat.
The Mudcats will try again to pick up ground on St. Joseph Sunday evening when they host the Ozark Generals in a 7:05 p.m. game at "June" Shaffer Memorial Park stadium. St. Joseph visits Omaha Diamond Spirit for league action Sunday night.
Saturday's game saw Chillicothe capitalize on consecutive Joplin errors to erase a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning.
After the miscues loaded the bases with none out, Nick Quejado's groundout to first tied the game and Jeffery Butler's 2-outs grounder that sneaked into right field gave the Mudcats the lead.
With two outs and none on in the seventh, Chillicothe added two more runs. After a walk, Al Robbins split the gap in left-center field for an RBI triple. Following another walk, Quejado hit a popup behind second that was lost in the twilight by the Outlaws second baseman and fell for an RBI single.
Joplin clipped reliever Derringer Huff for a pair of hits in the eighth and used a double-steal as the second out was being recorded on a strikeout to close to within 4-2.
In the ninth against Falcon, the Outlaws loaded the bases with three consecutive 1-out walks. Wally Marciel, the Mudcats pitching coach filling in as interim head coach with skipper Tai Mitchell away at a wedding, decided he had given Falcon all the leash he could in the near-must-win situation. He pulled the team's saves leader, bringing Guerra in to try to save the day.
The righthander from Littleton, Colorado, did just that, battling back from a quick 2-0 count against his first batter to fan Joplin's top hitter, Zac Stewart. He then induced a routine fly out to right from cleanup hitter Brennen Rogers to earn the critical save.