MINK League North Division-leading St. Joseph scores all of its runs in top of the eighth on consecutive triples to upend hosts 3-1
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — While Monday night’s second meeting of the 2017 season between the regional-rival Chillicothe Mudcats and St. Joseph Mustangs proved much, much closer than the first, the outcome remained unchanged.
Spanked by the MINK League’s North Division leaders 10-3 at St. Joseph’s Phil Welch Stadium last week, the Mudcats narrowly led round two most of the way before the Ponies used a hit batter and 3-straight hits – including back-to-back triples – to plate three eighth-inning runs and ride away 3-1 victors.
With submarine-throwing righthander Dan Naif freshly into the game to begin the eighth, St. Joseph gave no hint of what was about to happen when the new pitcher struck out the first batter he faced.
Naif then got ahead of righthanded-hitting Josh Lincoln, who had reached on an infield hit his previous at-bat, with his first pitch before hitting the Mustang in the back of the left shoulder with the next.
That put a man on for the heart of the St. Joseph lineu. The next three men were a composite one for nine against Chillicothe’s outstanding starter, Zack Mathes, so they surely weren’t saddened to be facing someone else. The fact that two of the three were lefthanded swingers (as the inning’s opening batter was) was cause for pause for Chillicothe faithful – with good reason, it proved.
No. 3 batter Brady Anderson slashed a clean single to right, putting the potential tying run in scoring position at second and the lead run at first.
Facing righthanded-batting Colton Pogue, Naif again got the first pitch over for a called strike, but then missed three times in a row. Knowing another non-strike would load the bases with one out, the 6’, 220-pounds pitcher from Jackson, N.J., had to try to make sure he caught plenty of the plate with the 3-1 pitch and hope, if the ball was put in play by Pogue, it would be at a defensive teammate.
It was not.
The Mustangs shortstop bombed a drive quickly over the head of retreating left fielder Justin Blasinski and off the fence about two-thirds of the way up. The velocity of the carom sent it back past the pursuing Blasinski, leaving it to center fielder Christian Hoplock to chase it down after a long run.
With the two baserunners already easily both scoring to give the guests the lead, Hoplock’s lone play was on Pogue trying for third base. However, the long throw arrived a moment too late with third baseman Kenny Jarema, trying to catch the throw and apply a quick tag, coming away from the play banged up.
After a couple of minutes to let Jarema’s pain subside – during which time some players from both teams emerged from their dugouts to woof at each other, prompting a warning to both clubs by the umpires, Naif returned to the mound.
Two pitches later, he surrendered a blast by lefty-hitting Drew Standifer to right-center that ended up as another 3-bagger. With two swings of the bat and loud contacts, St. Joseph had ripped away the Mudcats’ long-nursed lead and claimed a 3-1 margin it would protect – with some difficulty – over the last couple of innings.
“Losing this game stinks,” Jack Winters, Chillicothe’s first-year head coach, stated tersely afterward, “but we’ll look at the bigger picture. We’re focused on Nevada the next three days and we’re looking forward to our opportunity to play these guys again on July 3.”
The result pushed Chillicothe (12-9, 8-9 MINK) to 5-1/2 games behind rampaging St. Joseph (21-6, 16-6), which had won eight of its last 10 games entering Tuesday’s play.
Through seven innings, the only scoring was manufactured by the lower half of the Mudcats’ lineup in the second.
With one out, Anthony Lantigua was clipped by a Joshua Monson pitch for the first of two times. He barely escaped being doubled off when Chillicothe native Derek Hussey, the St. Joseph right fielder not only retreated quickly to make a fine catch of Dawsen Bacho’s trailing drive over his head, but, in the style of late, legendary Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente, made a full, back-to-home spin to fire – without looking at the target – an on-the-money, on-the-fly throw about 200 feet to first base. The throw only a hair late.
Still aboard, Lantigua improved the Mudcats’ scoring chances by stealing second on a low throw and then scored standing up when Hoplock’s perfectly-placed grounder squeezed through the right side of the infield, just out of both right-side infielders’ reach, and into short right field.
Chillicothe starter Mathes probably was the game’s most-impactful player, although ultimately unrewarded.
He became the team’s first pitcher to throw at least seven complete innings this summer and did so without scoreboard damage.
Easily the Fish’s most-effective starter to date, the Collinsville, Ill., righthander unofficially battled for 111 pitches to keep St. Joseph’s potent attack in neutral.
He allowed only four hits – half of them on the infield – and gave only two bases on balls, while striking out nine., a couple of which ” were particulary timely or notable.
After his teammates gave him the lead in the second, Mathes was nicked for a high-bouncing infield, 1-out hit by Brody Santilli. The runner swiped second and then third in a 5-pitches span to be 90 feet away from tying the game with one out.
Following the second theft, batter Josh Lincoln fouled off two 3-2 pitches before the Chillicothe hurler pumped on by him for the second out. Two pitches later, a grounder to second ended the inning with the hosts’ 1-0 lead intact.
In the Mustangs’ sixth, back-to-back hits put Mathes’ feet to the fire again. Once more, he rose to the challenge despite nearing and reaching the century mark in pitches thrown.
First, he froze the runners with a whiff of cleanup batter Pogue, coming back from a 3-1 count. Then, he got a harmless roller to Lantigua at second, although both runners moved up.
With the possible tying and lead runs in scoring position, he blew big designated hitter Josh Williams away with, unofficially, his 101st pitch, keeping the shutout going.
Boldly returned to the hill for the seventh, despite the elevated pitch count, the St. Andrews University pitcher repaid Winters’ faith by setting the lower third of the San Jose lineup down in order. He highlighted the frame with a loud-popping fastball he fired past the second batter for his ninth and last strikeout and punctuated his outing by getting a routine grounder to shortstop with his 113th delivery of the game.
When his long, excellent outing was over, Mathes had lowered his overall earned run average to an extemely-low .0.98. Although he ultimately missed out on what would have been his team-leading third win, through 18-1/3 innings thus far, he has been touched for only nine total hits and has 18 strikeouts against eight walks.
Aside from its cashed-in second-inning chance, Chillicothe did not capitalize on the plentiful baserunners it had. Of 13 runners left on, however, only five were at second or third base.
The best of the the Mudcats’ opportunities to add to their 1-0 lead was in the fifth, when they loaded the bases after two were out.
Blasinski pulled a hit into right field, Bryce Bisenius walked, and Lantigua was hit a second time. However, St. Joseph starting pitcher Joshua Monson, with what was his last pitch of the night, got Bacho to lift an 0-1 pitch harmlessly to left field to leave three men on.
After Mustangs lefthanded reliever and eventual winner Jaren Kutzke threw two scoreless, hitless innings – including a diving catch of a Jarema popup in short right-center by Hussey – and his teammates rallied in the top of the eighth, Chillicothe challenged righthander Nikko Pablo in the bottom of that inning.
After Lantigua reached for a third time without a hit – this time on a leadoff, 4-pitches walk, Bacho bounced a ball through into left field to put the potential tying runs on with no outs.
A well-executed sacrifice bunt by Hoplock left both men in scoring position, but Jarema’s hard grounder was easily within the first baseman’s reach near the base and both Mudcats runners had to hold as the first baseman stepped on the base.
That left it up to Josh Urps, who had been retired easily on four balls hit in the air – two infield popups and two fly ball. Three of those had ended innings, leaving a total of three men on.
He worked the count to 2-2 before going after a low pitch for strike three, adding a couple more left stranded as Chillicothe did not convert on its chance for an immediate response to St. Joseph’s go-ahead push.
A 1-out single by Chris Peres in the ninth put the potential tying run in the batter’s box against the fourth Mustangs pitcher, Jake Purl. Facing the two Mudcats who have homered (twice each) this summer – Blasinski and Bisenius, the big reliever got both on strikes – the last one looking – to save it.
Statistically in Monday’s hurler-controlled game, St. Joseph ended with an 8-6 advantage in hits to go with its 2-runs edge. The Mustangs, whose only two walks received both were to Hussey, left eight men on base, compared to Chillicothe’s 13. Neither side made an error. Mudcats pitchers cumulatively fanned 12 men and home hitters whiffed eight times.
Individually, Peres and St. Joseph catcher Anderson had the only multi-hits game, each stroking a pair of singles.
Former Chillicothe High and Chillicothe Cardinals American Legion baseball standout Hussey, who finished his second year at North Central Missouri College – where he was a teammate of Mudcats pitcher Blake Collister – this May, reached base in half of his plate appearances in addition to his outstanding defense.
The Mudcats, beaten in six of their last seven since beginning the summer 10-2, will be in Nevada, Mo., Tuesday night to face the Griffons in a 7 p.m. contest.
Chillicothe swept three home games from Nevada a couple of weeks ago, keeping the Griffons winless through their first 10 games in doing so. However, since then, the Vernon County team has gained its footing and won eight of 12 to stand 8-12 in the league and 8-14 overall.
Mudcats head coach Jack Winters has indicated he expects to bring righthander Trevor Maly (2-0) out of the bullpen to start the 3-games series opener tonight (Tuesday). Both of Maly’s wins have come in relief and his lone save came in the last game against Nevada.