Righthander from Illinois checks Sedalia on one hit through five scoreless innings as Mudcats end brief 2-games skid with 4-3 MINK League baseball home victory
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
One burst of hits backed the strong starting pitching of Zack Mathes Tuesday night and got the Chillicothe Mudcats back on track with a 4-3 MINK League home win over the visiting Sedalia Bombers.
Righthander Mathes (2-1) from North Carolina’s St. Andrews University tossed five shutout innings of 1-hit ball before, having shown fatigue in the fifth, handing the ball off to a parade of four relief pitchers who preserved – barely – the Mudcats’ 11th win in 15 games thus far this summer.
Snapping a momentary 2-games losing streak, the Fish raised their league record to 7-4, moving back ahead of defending league champ Sedalia (8-6 overall, 8-6 MINK).
In a season in which, to date, its success has been fueled by its hitting, Chillicothe in this one scored in only one frame, but did enough then – four runs on five hits and a walk – to make it produce victory.
Those Mudcats runs in the fifth inning almost were not enough to subdue Sedalia.
The Bombers touched first Chillicothe reliever Dan Naif for two hits and a run in the sixth to get on the scoreboard, but left the bases full.
After Trevor Maly set the Bombers down in order in the seventh, they jumped on the latest throwing error on a should-be strikeout by Chillicothe catcher Dawsen Bacho to close within 4-3 in the eighth.
With only a 1-run cushion, the pressure was on Mudcats closer Austin Gussman when he came on in the ninth.
He immediately got behind the first batter, but battled back to get a grounder to second on a 3-2 pitch for the first out.
The lefty hit the next man in the foot to put the potential tying run board and started the following batter with two balls. However, his 2-0 pitch to Cole Gray was popped up for the second out.
A clean, 2-outs single into left advanced the potential tying run into scoring position for cleanup batter Louis Niemerg.
After initially falling behind each of the first four batters he faced, Gussman jumped ahead of the righthanded hitter 0-2, only to then miss with three straight.
With the would-be tying run on the move from second – meaning any single to the outfield would tie the game – and the potential go-ahead run leaving from first with the pitch and likely to score on any extra-base hit, Gussman pumped three consecutive pitches in or close enough to the strike zone to force Niemerg to swing. Each swing resulted in a foul ball, building the tension and drama with each.
Finally, on the battle’s ninth offering by Gussman, Niemerg swung and missed a high fastball and Chillicothe had its win – and Gussman save No. 3.
The game’s early innings zipped along with both starting pitchers – the Fish’s Mathes and Sedalia lefthander Wesley Pyles – dominating.
“He’s a competitor, he throws the ball down in the zone, he throws strikes – exactly what you want your pitcher to do,” Ken Durling, the Mudcats’ assistant coach currently in charge of the team during games while head coach Jack Winters serves a 5-games suspension, assessed Illinoisan Mathes’ work.
After not allowing a Sedalia hit the first time through the batting order, the righthander began to sputter a bit, but didn’t fall apart.
After a leadoff walk in the fourth, the first Bombers hit, and 2-outs wild pitch which moved men to second and third, Mathes got a routine fly ball to right field to strand them.
Two more walks in the fifth led to a first-and-third, 2-outs threat, but a popup left them on.
Mudcats hitters – held to two hits and no runs through four by Pyles – got down to business after the first batter of their fifth was retired. The bottom of the order became the table-setters and the top two in the lineup took a turn as run producers.
One pitch after watching a curveball drop in for strike two, Chris Peres leaned on another deuce on Pyles’ 1-2 offering and bounced hard through the box and into center field. Two pitches later, Christian Hoplock pulled a grounder into right field for a 2-on, 1-out threat.
In a lefty-vs.-lefty matchup, the Sedalia hurler got two quick called strikes on pesky Kenny Jarema, but missed with the next four to the Downingtown, Pa., third baseman and Chillicothe had the bases full.
Switch-hitting leadoff man Ramger Iglesias broke the scoring ice by yanking a line drive down the left-field line for a 2-runs double and Josh Urps, another switch-swinger standing in from the right side, also pulled the ball, finding the gap between the third baseman and shortstop for a hit which plated both Jarema and Iglesias for a 4-0 lead.
A hit by Bryce Bisenius two batters later knocked the fast-faded Pyles out of the game, but reliever Austin Brownell escaped without further damage and then blanked Chillicothe the rest of the way.
With Durling convinced his starter was tired and becoming less effective and the team having had an off day Monday, Durling opted to let the Mudcats’ most-trusted relievers protect the newly-gained lead by getting the last 12 outs. Despite a few hiccups, they did.
Statistically, although it won by only one run, Chillicothe out-hit Sedalis 10-5.
The Mudcats’ four runs were about half what they’re averaging for the season, an average output which has offensive coach Durling shaking his head.
“Our offense has been winning all of our games” until Tuesday, he agreed in a post-game chat. “They’re just unbelievable.”
“… It’s amazing that, every game, we’re in. No matter who we have in the starting lineup, everyone just hits the ball.
“I really just get to sit back and watch. I really don’t have to ‘call’ too many plays (as third-base coach). The guys just know to go up there swinging and they find gaps, they work counts, they find rallies, so it makes my job very easy.”
Individually in Tuesday’s tilt, the 10 Mudcats hits were evenly divided – two each – among two guys in the top third of the lineup (Urps, Iglesias), two in the bottom third (Peres, Hoplock), and mid-order man (Bisenius).
Peres’ two hits – the Californian’s sixth in 12 games he’s batted in this summer – lifted his batting average to a team-leading .455. He has a .500 on-base percentage, as well.
Iglesias’ two hits gave him a team-most seven multi-hits games out of 13 contests.
Mathes’ five shutout innings were the first time in 2017 the team’s had a starter blank the foe into the sixth. He’d held Cassville to one run over six innings in his previous start, but gave up that run in the fourth.
Up next for the Mudcats is their first duel with current MINK League North Division leader St. Joseph. They will call on the Mustangs at Phil Welch Stadium in St. Joseph Wednesday at 7 p.m. Lefthander Matt Herman (1-0) is slated to make the start on the mound for second-place Chillicothe.
On Thursday, the Mudcats will face Sedalia again, this time on Sedalia soil. Two-way performer Peres is projected to be the starting pitcher that night.
ACOSTA AILING: Steven Acosta, a righthander from New Jersey’s Bloomfield College who has been in the Mudcats’ starting rotation thus far, will yield that spot to impressive Keytesville, Mo./
North Central Missouri College product Blake Collister after experiencing continued discomfort in his throwing arm/shoulder, Winters disclosed after Tuesday’s game.
Acosta, a senior-to-be and projected to be one of the main pitchers at Bloomfield next season, likely will get some medical examination – probably back in the northeast – before a determination is made whether he’ll throw any more here. Winters, Chillicothe’s pitching coach in addition to his head coaching duties, indicated he considers it more probable that Acosta will be shut down for the rest of the summer season.
With Acosta shelved at least temporarily, Jack Wolfe having departed last week to save his arm for his college season, and rehabbing righthander Tyler Clark not yet ready for game use, it seems likely the Mudcats will be in contact with at least one of the pitchers they had on their standby list and bring one or more new arms in before long.