With 3-runs first and 4-runs sixth, Bombers open 3-1/2-games lead on Fish in chase for second place in MINK League North Division

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Early in their summer season, the 2017 Chillicothe Mudcats repeatedly used comebacks – sometimes from sizable deficits, sometimes late-innings rallies – to get off to a blazing 10-2 start.
Monday night at home at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium, with their fortunes having taken a steep downturn since those halcyon early-June days and their prospects for making the liberal MINK League playoffs in need of quick resuscitation, the Mudcats looked like they might hearken back to their thrilling come-from-behind ways.
However, a momentary surge to within striking distance in the middle of the game was squashed by a big Sedalia Bombers response in the sixth and the visiting defending league champions marched on to an 11-2 victory.
Chillicothe’s second home loss in three nights to the team directly ahead of it in the league’s North division standings lowered its league record to 12-15, 3-1/2 games back of second-place Sedalia and a fast-growing 6-1/2 behind division leader St. Joseph, which was idle Monday.
More ominously, the Mudcats – 17-15 overall – dropped into a tie with the idle Clarinda (Iowa) A’s for third place in the 4-teams division. Under the league’s new postseason arrangement this year, even the division’s third-place team gets a chance in the playoffs which will determine the 2017 MINK League champion, but the fourth team is out of luck.
Considering that Chillicothe and Clarinda have a suspended game they’ll resume in Iowa (although the Mudcats will be the “home” team, since the contest started here June 15) and that the A’s hold a 2-runs lead and are batting with the bases full in the ninth inning of that game, one could easily view the Iowa team as, effectively, currently ahead of the Mudcats in the current fight for third.
With their most-reliable chucker of the season to date, Zack Mathes, having allowed seven runs – one unearned and several others of the “soft” variety – in lasting only 2-2/3 innings Monday, the Fish came to bat in their fourth inning down 7-1 and having managed only one hit – Ramger Iglesias’ 2-outs, run-scoring single to right in the third – off Sedalia starting pitcher Zach Maskill.
However, even after Chris Peres’ booming, high drive to the edge of the track in distant, straightaway center field – nearly 400 feet from home plate – was calmly tracked and caught, basket-style, with his back to the plate by Sedalia center fielder Cole Gray for the first out, Chillicothe made a move.
Singles by Justin Blasinski, Dawsen Bacho, and Tanner Baker – with a walk to Kody Gardner mixed in – put a second Mudcats run on the scoreboard. A 2-outs, 4-pitches walk to Kenny Jarema forced home another marker and put the potential tying run in the batter’s box.
Although the next batter, Iglesias, was no power threat to knot the score with one swing of the bat, a well-placed hit could easily make it a 2-runs game and have the speedster aboard as that potential tying run. Even getting on base in the bases-full situation would narrow the gap to at most three with recently-hot-hitting Anthony Lantigua waiting to swing next against the floundering Maskill or, perhaps, a reliever hurriedly brought into the action.
In the critical moment, Maskill regained his bearings and caught the Chillicothe batter looking at a 1-2 pitch for the final out, keeping the Bombers in front by four.
When Chillicothe reliever Dan Naif, who has had spotty results, outing to outing, this summer, followed up having retired the first four batters he’d faced after replacing Mathes by using a double-play grounder to facilitate another 3-batters inning in the Sedalia fifth, the Mudcats had a chance to ride their momentum and continue to close the one-time 7-runs gap.
Maskill, however, showed that getting the last out of the fifth on a called punchout in an ultra-tight spot had restored his command and confidence. He set down the first two batters in the Chillicothe fifth and, following a walk, got a routine groundout to keep the score at 7-3, Sedalia, after five.
Then, with Naif – generally a short-stint reliever – lifted after having worked 2-1/3 innings, although that required merely 26 pitches, the roof caved in on the home team in the sixth, partially by its own doing.
The first pitch Harrison Schnurbusch saw from new Mudcats hurler Jerald Johnston was laced back through the middle and into center field for a single. Jordan Wright, the Bombers’ No. 9 man in the lineup who would wind up with a game-best three hits, sneaked one of those three singles through into right field.
With runners at first and second, Johnston, whose bread and butter with his contorted, sidewheeling delivery is trying to get ground balls with pitches below thigh-high, got the desired result, but the outcome he and his team hoped.
A bouncer right down the third-base line was within the reach of Lantigua, normally the team’s second baseman, but at third because, according to Mudcats general manager Doug Doughty, Iglesias has a tender throwing arm and needed to play second if he was going to be in the lineup. With Iglesias there instead of his normal shortstop or occasional use at third, regular third sacker Jarema was making his first appearance of the season at shortstop and Lantigua took the “hot corner.”
As the fill-in third sacker went to his backhand to try to glove the high hopper, potentially with the opportunity to start a 5-3 double-play that could change the shape of the inning, he missed connections slightly and the ball rolled into foul territory beyond the bag.
Lantigua quickly chased it down as Schnurbusch, with Sedalia already up by four, aggressively waved around third toward home by his head coach, Craig McAndrews. While he looked to have time to make a throw home that would beat the runner and appeared to not rush himself, the Chillicothe infielder’s throw toward the plate went high and over leaping catcher Cris Cabral. By the time the ball was chased down, the batter-runner and Wright had moved to second and third, respectively, still with no outs and the guests’ lead was 8-3.
It soon grew significantly larger.
Getting his pitches up to belt-level or higher, where he is much-less successful, Johnston surrendered a sacrifice fly to the next batter and then a no-doubt home run over the wall in left to Dalton Horstmeier.
In the span of five batters and about that many minutes, Chillicothe had gone from trailing by four, but “on the come,” in dice-throwing terms, to being down by twice that many and essentially out of the game.
Although the Mudcats still had four innings of at-bats left to try to make some inroads, as has become increasingly the case the past couple of weeks, they accomplished nothing offensively in the late going. In their last 15 9-innings league games, they have scored only 10 runs in the sixth inning or later (nearly 60 total innings).
With a giant lead, Maskill – perhaps one swing of the bat away from exiting in the fourth – extended his start to seven full innings with only three runs allowed. After the Chillicothe surge in the fourth, he bounced back to work the fifth, sixth, and seventh hitlessly – walking a couple along the way, but retiring 10 of the last 12 batters he faced.
A pair of relievers each worked a scoreless frame to finish up with the last six Fish batters fried in order.
Chillicothe did have a bright spot in the late innings when, as Naif had earlier, its last three pitchers – recent arrivals Houston Morris and Jase Dalton – and season-long team member Nate Wenson held the Bombers to one hit and no runs over the last 3-2/3 innings. Morris got all five of his outs on strikeouts and Dalton whiffed the side in the ninth.
As cited earlier, the Bombers’ three first-frame runs weren’t exactly the result of ripped shots off the righty – except for the one which literally was, a play which might have factored into the way the inning proceeded.
The game’s first batter, Dev Wilson, lashed a low liner right back toward the mound. Before Mathes (2-2) could react, the ball hit what seemed to be his right (drive) foot and ricocheted toward Lantigua, playing on the grass at third for the speedy leadoff man. Lantigua hurried to the still-rolling ball, but – perhaps owing to his fielding routine at second base where the shorter throw allows more time on most plays – he chose to scoop the slowly-moving ball up with his glove first before getting it thrown to first. The extra instant it took to transfer the ball from glove to throwing hand and then cock and throw was just enough for Wilson to beat the close play at first.
With Wilson at first and needing to be held on by inexperienced first baseman Bacho, lefthanded swinger Gray was able to dribble a ball past Bacho and then Iglesias for another hit, sending Wilson to third easily. Had Wilson been retired, Gray’s soft grounder would have been easily fieldable by a deeper-positioned Bacho for a likely second out. In that scenario, even the following pair of walks and hit batsman would have amounted to nothing when a ground ball would have ended the inning with no runs.
Instead, with two on and none out, the first walk and hit batter forced in the game’s first run. A wild pitch plated a second and, after the second base on balls – the fifth-consecutive Bomber to reach base safely to open the game, a force-play grounder gave Maskill a 3-0 lead to protect when he made his first trip to the mound.
Had the misplayed sixth-inning bouncer become a double play, the subsequent fly ball to center would have ended the inning with no runs, rather than the four which eventually crossed the plate. Paired with the near-miss on Wilson in the first, even-slightly-better or quicker Chillicothe defensive execution or good fortune could have kept seven Bombers runs off the scoreboard.
Statistically, the dominant numbers in Monday’s game were Mathes’ unanticipated seven runs in only 2-2/3 innings, but more worrisome for Chillicothe fans might be the four errors their team made, even though those led to only one officially-unearned run. It was the Fish’s second-straight contest against Sedalia in which it had four official miscues and their fourth game in a row with multiple errors.
Offensively, Wright was the only Sedalia batter with more than one hit. Wilson scored three times and Horstmeier drove in three runs.
Chillicothe managed only four hits, each by a different player and three of them grouped into its 3-runs fourth. It did not have a hit the last five innings and now been held to five or less hits in three of the last four league games.
On a non-statistical note, Monday’s home game did provide the opportunity for hometowner Ty Figg to briefly make his debut with the team. Figg was inserted in center field for the ninth inning, but did not get an at-bat.