Bryce Bisenius' three hits, including his second home run of the season, and the bullpen work of Jerald Johnston key Monday victory over Cassville at Trenton
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
TRENTON, Mo. — One night after being lambasted 24-5 at Clarinda, Iowa, the MINK League-touring Cassville Arrows slashed their allowed-runs total by 20 Monday night. It still wasn’t enough to produce a victory, though.
With Bryce Bisenius hitting his second home run of the season as part of a 3-hits game, the Chillicothe Mudcats gained their fifth conquest in succession, easing past non-league foe Cassville 4-2 in the Mudcats’ annual visit to Trenton’s Burleigh Grimes Field.
“It wasn’t our prettiest win, but we did what we had to do to get a ‘W.’” Jack Winters, Chillicothe head coach, shrugged.
Registering that fifth-straight triumph overall and second over the Arrows this summer, Chillicothe (7-2) technically did it in come-from-behind fashion a fifth time in a row.
Mudcats righthanded starting pitcher Blake Collister, working on his collegiate home field where he and the North Central Missouri College Pirates toil during the school year, retired Cassville in order – including five strikeouts – the first three innings as he made his starting debut with his summer team after two relief appearances.
However, the Keytesville, Mo., product put his first-pitch fastball to start the fourth inning of a 0-0 game in the upper part of the strike zone and righthanded-swinging Arrows leadoff batter Tanner Ryan launched it to left field where – whether aided by the southerly 10-20 miles per hour wind behind it or not – it cleared the fence about 330 feet away for a solo home run.
When two of his next three pitches went for well-placed, but not well-struck, singles, Collister seemed to become disconcerted a bit. He walked the next man to load the bases with one out and, after a shallow fly out to right field kept the runners where they were, had another soft fly ball to left-center field plop safely in “no man’s land” to make it 2-0.
In a major jam and at risk of seeing a big inning erupt with one bad pitch, the area small-town product – with his parents watching from the third-base-side bleachers – showed some moxie.
He struck out the next batter on three pitches, then came back from a 2-0 hole with three strikes in a row to register his seventh whiff in four innings. That kept the margin at 2-0 and earned Collister the chance to return to the hill in the fifth, as well.
When he did, he was back on even terms as Bisenius’ leadoff, ground-rule double to deep right-center field in the home fourth sparked a tying, 2-runs inning for the Fish. Catcher Devonte Washington’s sharply-hit single through the hole into left put Chillicothe on the scoreboard against soft-throwing Cassville lefthanded starting pitcher Bryce Slavens and Kenny Jarema’s 1-out, forceout grounder to shortstop scored Chris Peres with a second marker.
Given a chance to complete at least the minimum number of innings to potentially qualify for a win, Collister posted his eighth “K” to being the fifth and kept things tied while stranding two in the inning as he wrapped up his evening’s work with a relatively-efficient 76 pitches thrown.
His team’s attack wasn’t able to plate a run in the home fifth to give him hope of getting the winning decision, but his work seems likely to gain the only player from the geographic region around Chillicothe on this year’s roster another start or high-leverage relief opportunity in the foreseeable future.
“Blake threw well,” Winters acknowledged. “He threw a lot of swing-and-miss pitches. He threw a lot of strikes. I’d like to see him throw some of those strikes at the bottom part of the strike zone.
“… Overall, definitely impressed with Blake’s outing.”
Monday’s game tipped Chillicothe’s way for the first time in the sixth inning, again prompted by Bisenius.
The muscular, lefthanded-hitting designated hitter from Johnson, Iowa, and Wayne (Neb.) State University, pulled a sharp single into right on the first pitch of the Mudcats’ sixth.
One pitch later, Californian Chris Peres had moved him to third base via a double over the left fielder’s head. A few pitches later, Washington racked up his second run batted in of the game with a fly ball to left field and Chillicothe led, 3-2.
Thanks to strong relief pitching, that would be all it would need, although Bisenius would cap his big night with a solo home run over the right-center field fence in the eighth.
When Collister departed after five innings, righthander Ethan Baltz made his second appearance of the season, but again encountered control problems, although not as severe as at Jefferson City June 3, when he walked all five batters he faced.
This time, after giving out a freebie to the first man he faced, he got a ground-ball out and a strikeout before issuing a pair of 5-pitch bases on balls that loaded the bases in a 1-run game.
Not wanting to risk the positive momentum his team was carrying, in the form of its winning streak, Winters brought in righthander Johnston to try to escape the threat.
The sidewheeling righthander did so with one pitch, inducing an easy bouncer to third baseman Jarema, who had made an outstanding play charging a third-inning tap. Jarema threw on target across the diamond and, for a second time in the game, Cassville had left three on.
“Kenny has been tremendous, defensively,” praised Winters afterward. “He’s been solid at third base. He has really good instincts on when to charge (a ground ball) and when to stay back.”
After escaping the sixth-inning mess, Johnston had a 1-2-3 seventh and calmly worked around a leadoff catcher’s interference call and hit batsman in the eighth to keep it 3-2 until Bisenius added a bit of cushion.
With Johnston (2-0) in position for his second relief win in four games, last week’s MINK League “pitcher of the week,” lefthander Austin Gussman entered in the ninth for the Mudcats. After giving a 5-pitches walk to the first man he faced, he earned his second save – to go with two wins – by retiring the next three men.
As demonstrated by his usage Monday, Johnston has won Winters’ confidence quickly to serve in the bullpen’s “jam” role – a pitcher called in with men aboard in a tight situation.
“Jerald Johnston has definitely earned himself a prominent pitching role and he’s going to get that workload for the near future,” the head/pitching coach confirmed afterward.
Statistically Monday, the biggest numbers were produced by the pitchers as the teams combined for only 13 hits and six runs on a field which seems to invite offense.
Chillicothe’s quartet of hurlers combined to ring up 14 strikeouts, including eight by Collister and four by Johnston. The three Mudcats relievers did not allow a hit in their combined four innings.
In addition to Jarema’s nifty play in the third inning, the Fish had another defensive dazzler in the fifth that likely kept the Arrows from regaining the lead.
Right fielder Kody Gardner – having seen action already at all three outfield posts, despite having been with the team only a few days – raced perhaps 25-30 yards in and to his left to make a spectacular, shoestring catch on the dead run just inside the right field line for the second out of the top of the fifth.
“He can play all three positions and he can play all three well,” complimented his head coach.
Although charged with the loss, Cassville southpaw Slavens yielded only eight hits and four runs to a Mudcats lineup which had raked the Arrows for 15 hits and 15 runs in the teams’ June 5 meeting in Chillicothe.
“Soft(-throwing) lefties can be very effective. The slower speed is difficult for (batters) who have been seeing mid-to-high 80s, guys touching 90,” explained Winters. “… That kid’s off-speed stuff is definitely lower 70s.
“… We stayed on him, stayed persistent, waited for some mistake pitches, and tried to make the most of some opportunities.”
Chillicothe and Cassville will meet a third and final time for this summer Tuesday night, back at the Mudcats’ “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium home.
Slated to start the 7:05 p.m. game on the mound for the Fish is righthander Zack Mathes (0-1) from North Carolina’s St. Andrews U.