Overtake winless Nevada 12-10 at home on Blasinski's, Baker's 2-runs singles after being down 10-6 entering eighth in MINK League contest
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
In a season stuffed to the gills with lengthy games, the 2017 Chillicothe Mudcats played their longest one yet Thursday night (June 8). At least, they made the extensive time worthwhile.
Behind by several runs virtually the entire stretch from the Nevada Griffons’ 6-runs top of the second inning until they were down to their last four outs, the Mudcats memorably pulled one out of the fire at “June”Shaffer Memorial Park stadium.
Trailing the MINK League contest 10-6 after 7-1/2 innings, Chillicothe (4-2, 2-2 MINK) capitalized on a Nevada error to get a game-tying, 2-outs, 2-run single from Justin Blasinski and, two batters later, a game-winning, 2-runs single from Tanner Baker to best the still-winless Griffons, 12-10.
Baker’s hit capped a 6-runs home eighth, giving the Mudcats a lead lefthander Austin Gussman, their fifth pitcher of the night, preserved with a hitless, scoreless ninth. The team’s first save of the season presented righthander Jerald Johnston, the fourth Chillicothe hurler, with his first win as reward for his 2-1/3 innings of scoreless work from the sixth through the eighth that kept Nevada (0-8, 0-6 MINK) in sight.
Citing a “never-say-die attitude” his club has exhibited a few times already in the first week of the season, Jack Winters, first-year Chillicothe head coach, lauded his club’s winning pitcher.
“Jerald Johnston pitched his rear end off,” the head/pitching coach praised. “He’s been itching to get in there (in a critical situation) and he’s had his name passed over.”
Chillicothe and Nevada (Mo.) will have their second of their three games in three nights at Shaffer Park stadium Friday at 7:05 p.m. The scheduled starting pitcher for the Mudcats is righthander Parker Kirkpatrick (1-0), whose debut was a strong, 6-innings stint at Jefferson City last Saturday.
The Mudcats’ dramatic rally Thursday began after Nevada’s fourth pitcher, Kory Haught, needed only one pitch to get the first out of the eighth.
The first Griffons pitcher of the night not to throw lefthanded, Haught began cooking his own goose and his team’s when he issued a 5-pitch base on balls to Chris Peres with one out. When he also passed Josh Urps on five offerings, hope bubbled through the Chillicothe home faithful in the stands.
The level of excitement climbed when Ramger Iglesias, on an 0-2 pitch, looped a single to shallow center, loading the bases and putting the potential tying run in the batter’s box.
Another free pass gave Christian Hoplock his fourth run driven in of the game and put the tying run on the basepaths, still with one out.
Probably the pivotal play of the inning – and ultimately the game, given the eventual outcome – saw the Nevada righthander bound off the hill toward the first-base line to pick up Anthony Lantigua’s swinging bunt as the speedy Urps burned for home. Haught successfully came up with the ball on the move and made the simplest play he had – backhanding the ball about 20-25 feet toward the plate to try to force out Urps. The toss arrived ahead of the runner, but was down around ground level and catcher Ben Bayless couldn’t keep the ball in his leather. As it oozed out and down to the dirt, the sliding Chillicothe baserunner was safe with the Mudcats’ eighth run and the bases remained load.
That terminated Haught’s time on the mound, replaced by David Ruot, another portsider, with one out and the possible tying run now 180 feet from home.
As the new pitcher worked to the Mudcats’ cleanup man and most-prolific hitter to date – Blasinski, one of his deliveries squirted behind Bayless. The speedy Iglesias immediately headed for home plate, but the ball stopped rolling quickly and Bayless fed it back to Ruot covering the plate in time for Iglesias to be punched out on a close call.
With the burgeoning rally in danger of being short-circuited, Blasinski, who had ripped a first-inning pitch over the boards in right field with a man on in the first inning to open the game’s scoring, delivered in the clutch.
With Hoplock and Lantigua having moved up a base while Iglesias was being erased, Blasinski’s bouncing single right up the middle scored both runners rather easily and, after a long chase, the Mudcats had caught up to the Griffons at 10-10.
With Blasinski having alertly taken second base as the Griffons center fielder had vainly thrown home on the tying hit, the pressure remained high on the visitors and their hurler.
Ruot had a pitch get too far inside to designated hitter Bryce Bisenius and the hit batter put two aboard and Baker in the batter’s box as Chillicothe’s ninth batter of the inning.
On the second pitch to Baker, Blasinski apparently thought he saw it elude the catcher and belatedly took off for third base. The unexpected move caught Nevada flat-footed and by the time it reacted and got the ball thrown there, the Mudcat had made it safely. To make matters worse, the next pitch was in the dirt and, while Bayless blocked it in front of the plate, alert pinch-runner Kody Gardner – one of two Sacramento State players who’d made it to town earlier Thursday after the recent of their team’s season – dashed to second unfettered.
The extra 90 feet the two baserunners picked up separately became extra meaningful when Baker, after fouling off a 3-0 pitch, served an opposite-way single through the left side of the infield. Baker’s only hit of a game which saw 23 total hits plated both runners and Chillicothe had pushed six runs across in the bottom of the eighth – the last four with two outs – to regain the original 2-runs lead Blasinski’s opening-inning blast had provided more than three hours before.
“One through nine, our guys have been hitting the ball,” Winters cited the contributions throughout the lineup which had been necessary for the winning rally, but also have hallmarked the team’s early lusty offense. Through six games, Chillicothe is averaging 11 runs and has four games of double-figures runs.
“It says a lot about the caliber of players we have, how they’re just good baseball players. It speaks volumes about what (assistant/offensive coach Ken Durling’s) been working on with the guys and how they’ve been so receptive.”
Statistically Thursday night, the Mudcats were out-hit 12-11 and committed four errors to Nevada’s three. Their handful of hurlers also threw a whopping, combined total of 198 pitches in nine innings, although they induced the Griffons to leave 12 runners on base.
“The one thing we have done well is leaving (opposing) runners on base,” Winters said, when discussing his staff’s high, high pitch counts and baserunner totals thus far.
Individually, Hoplock’s and Blasinski’s four RBI apiece – spread across three plate appearances for Hoplock and two for Blasinski – were matched Nevada’s Noah Menchaca with one swing in the second inning. With the Griffons having halved the 2-0 Chillicothe advantage via a bases-full base on balls two batters earlier, Menchaca jumped on a hanging curveball from Chillicothe starting pitcher Tyler Hansen and rode it over the fence down the left-field line for a grand slam. That put Nevada ahead 5-4 and it stayed there almost the rest of the way.
Blasinski, Hoplock, and Iglesias had three hits each for the hosts. Nevada’s dozen hits were spread up and down its lineup as every spot in the order produced at least one.
With his four runs batted in, “JB” Blasinski, a lefthanded-swinging sophomore at McHenry County (Ill.) CC this past school year and signed to move on to Illinois-Springfield, raised his total to 13 in the team’s first six games. He also ended the night batting .484 (15 of 31) for the year. He’s had multi-hits games four times already, three times having at least three hits while building a season-starting 6-games hitting streak.
With his game-winner, Baker extended his hitting streak to five games.
“Our offense has been above expectations since day one,” Winters marvelled.