Backed by Bacho's two RBI singles, trio of 6-4-3 double plays, other fine defensive play, Northern Illinois U. righty goes distance. Team cuts "magic number" to three in MINK North race
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — A mere five nights after being lifted with a big cushion following eight innings of 1-run ball against the MINK League’s South Division cellar-dweller, righthander Parker Kirkpatrick of the Chillicothe Mudcats college-level, wood-bat baseball team wasn’t about to be denied an opportunity to top that last (Thursday) night.
Facing the league’s North Division and overall leader, the St. Joseph Mustangs, the Lawrence, Kan., product dominated the visitors with a route-going, 5-hits shutout as the Mudcats moved within sniffing distance of a league playoffs berth with a 2-0 triumph in Chillicothe’s final regular-season home appearance.
“He was really disappointed when I didn’t let him go out and finish the Joplin game,” Jack Winters, Mudcats head/pitching coach, shared afterward, “and, with the way this game was going and how successful he was, even if he was above the century point going into the ninth, he still was going to be the guy going out there.”
Sent back out for the ninth having thrown only about 90 pitches, the Northern Illinois University hurler fanned the first batter on three pitches. Then, after Brady Anderson’s second hit of the game made cleanup hitter Cody Pogue the potential tying run as he stepped in, Kirkpatrick (4-1) battled to a 2-2 count before getting a sharp grounder to the shortstop side of second base. Having already combined with college teammate Anthony Lantigua, the second baseman, on crisply-executed double plays in the sixth and seventh innings, Ramger Iglesias glided to his left to collect the ball and underhand a short toss to Lantigue for the forceout at second. Lantigua pivoted and fired a hard strike to first baseman Dawsen Bacho to nip Pogue by less than a half-step for a game-ending, win-clinching twin killing.
Prior to making the game-ending putout, Bacho had driven in the game’s only runs with singles in the third and fifth innings.
The second home victory over St. Joseph in three nights had multiple impacts, the most-urgent of which was its advancing the Mudcats closer to clinching one of the three spots in the league’s upcoming North Division playoffs.
While pursuer Clarinda, Iowa, was sitting idly at home, Chillicothe raised its league mark back to the .500 mark – 19-19. With the A’s from Iowa currently at only 14-21 in the loop, the Fish now own a 3-1/2 games lead in the chase for third place behind St. Joseph and Sedalia.
Thursday’s outcome shaved Chillicothe’s “magic number” (sum of its own wins and/or Clarinda losses) needed to mathematically clinch the third and final divisional-playoffs berth to three.
“We’re where you want to be at the end of a season,” observed Winters. “We control our own destiny.”
With Chillicothe and Clarinda slated to complete their suspended June 15 game (see separate story on this site) and play a full, regularly-scheduled game in Iowa tonight (Friday), starting at 6 p.m., the Mudcats could clinch on the A’s Merle Eberly Field turf with a sweep. Chillicothe will send lefthander Tyler Hansen (3-1), coming off a 7-innings complete-game win last Sunday, to the mound for the regularly-slated contest.
Conversely, if the A’s close out the suspended game they lead 15-13 with one out in the top of the ninth inning (with Clarinda batting with the bases loaded) and then capture the originally-slated full game, they could be even in the “lost” column at 21 each.
However, even with a Friday sweep, the A’s have three more games remaining than the Mudcats and would have to to win at least two of those “extra” games – two against St. Joseph and one with Sedalia – and beat Chillicothe head-to-head at Clarinda again Monday to reel in the Fish.
A split of Friday’s play at Clarinda’s Municipal Stadium would cut Chillicothe’s “magic number” to one. That would force the A’s to “win out” and have the Mudcats lose Saturday’s game at St. Joseph for Clarinda to finish in a tie for third. In the case of a tie, Clarinda would have the advantage by virtue of a better head-to-head record.
In addition to its impact on the Mudcats’ playoffs chase, Thursday’s triumph also clinched no worse than a .500 final record to the 2017 campaign, boosting the team’s overall mark this summer to 24-19.
The team has never had a losing season in its 16 seasons of play and only once has it finished at the break-even mark. A victory in one of the four remaining or the first postseason game – assuming that increasingly-likely possibility comes to pass – would assure a winning season in Winters’ first year leading the club.
The triumph over St. Joseph in the regular-season home finale improved Chillicothe’s 2017 mark at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium to a respectable 15-9 (.625 winning percentage).
Additionally, with missing the league’s liberally-constructed playoffs a looming possibility after splitting a home doubleheader with Ozark July 13, the Mudcats have won five of their last seven to grab the upper hand in the battle with Clarinda.
Last night at their “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium home, where they would play again in 2017 only if they beat the odds and advance to the MINK League Championship Series, the Mudcats produced what could be viewed as a “blueprint” game for what Winters had projected at season’s start.
Kirkpatrick provided outstanding pitching, working effectively and at a nice pace which helped the defense stay on its toes behind him. The gloves behind him not only were flawless – including the previously-cited three ground-ball double plays in the latter innings, but made three other key plays besides handling all of the routine plays.
Starting the top of the fourth right after he’d driven in Kody Gardner from second with a 2-outs, ground-ball single to right field, Bacho – recruited to be a catcher, but pressed into more and more service at the gateway and having become a solid glove there – went to his left behind the first-base bag to cleanly spear Brady Anderson’s hard grounder and trot to the bag for an out, rather than a potential single or double.
In the next inning, a throwing error and a wild pitch had a Mustang at second base with no outs, representing the tying run. However, after a fly out, third baseman Kenny Jarema smoothly gloved Chillicothe native Derek Hussey’s sharp grounder just to his left and, spying the man at second having initially started toward third, threw to Lantigua at second to get the runner trying vainly to retreat. When the next batter sneaked a single through the right side into short right field, it might have scored the tying run, rather than just making it first and second with two outs, if Jarema had not made his play. Kirkpatrick then got a groundout to first to strand the runners.
That really takes the wind out of their sails,” Winters saluted Jarema’s alert play, the second time this summer he’s made such a play.
Finally, in the eighth, left fielder Justin Blasinski raced to the gap in left-center field to make a diving stab of Brody Santilli’s tailing, 2-outs liner, taking away a sure extra-base hit which could have sparked the guests.
“The pace of the game, style of the game – how it unfolded, that’s what college, summer, wood-bat baseball is supposed to be,” Winters said of the pitching/defense-led triumph.
After putting the Mudcats on the scoreboard against tough St. Joseph righthander Steve D’Amico with his hit to center in the third, Bacho stepped in again in the bottom of the fifth after Blasinski’s booming, 1-out double to the base of the center-field fence 400 feet away.
Bacho got enough of a D’Amico pitch to slip it on the ground past the shortstop and into short center field. By the time the throw came home, Blasinski was safe standing up and Kirkpatrick had a 2-0 lead to work with.
With the defensive support he got, that would prove sufficient, if not comfortable.
By the time his last pitch produced the game-ending double-dip, Kirkpatrick had limited the Ponies to only five hits and seven baserunners while blanking them only two nights after teammate Trevor Maly had earned his fifth win with seven innings of 3-hits, 1-run ball against the league leaders.
Even as they got their second, third, and fourth looks of the night at him, Mustangs batters never consistently made hard contact against Kirkpatrick.
Winters noted St. Joseph hitters seemed to be swinging earlier in the at-bat after their first time through the order. That earlier patience had led the Chillicothe starter to need just over 40 pitches to get through three innings. He went the last six in barely 60 more.
“Perhaps their adjustment was to try to get a fastball early in the count and he was spotting his changeup well and mixing in his 2-seam (sinking) fastball,” the coach mused. “That was something we learned from Trevor Maly’s performance, that they had some trouble with 2-seam fastballs.”
Statistically, with his effort Thursday, Kirkpatrick not only produced his first and the team’s first 9-innings complete game and shutout of 2017, but he continued an exceptional 3-games stretch of personal starts.
Over his last 22 innings, he now has allowed only two runs on 13 hits. That’s come in only a 12-days stretch.
While Kirkpatrick was doing his “thing” in sensational manner, St. Joseph’s nearly-30-years-old D’Amico, who didn’t go to college until after a stretch in the military service, was quite good himself.
He largely spaced out the nine Chillicothe hits, limiting the damage to the two runs and striking out 10 in seven innings.
“Their pitcher D’Amico threw a great game,” saluted Winters.
Earlier in the month, he’d checked the Fish on two runs over eight innings while fanning 11 in a 136-pitches effort. Thursday, he made 128 deliveries home.