Chillicothe college-level, wood-bat baseball team's 17th season begins quietly as its batters collect only two hits and strike out 14 times in Thursday, May 31, home debut
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Somehow tied with the visiting Albert Lea Lakers after eight innings despite having been out-hit 10-2, two Chillicothe Mudcats relief pitchers uncorked run-scoring wild pitches in the top of the ninth as the Fish dropped their 2018 season opener at home Thursday (May 31), 6-4.
Having tied the game 4-4 in the seventh with three runs on only one hit in the seventh, Chillicothe saw similar soft runs cost it the game in the ninth.
A clean single to center by Noah Hemphill – once ticketed to be a Mudcat this summer, Chillicothe general manager Doug Doughty related during the game – to start the final scheduled inning was followed by a 4-pitches walk by losing pitcher James “River” Wright from tiny Bucklin, northeast of Brookfield.
The Missouri Southern state righthander then wild-pitched the runners to second and third before getting a popup for the first out. However, as the next man batted, a high pitch sailed to the backstop, allowing Hemphill to score easily. When that batter walked, Wright was replaced on the hill by Chillicothean Tristen Sewell, a freshman at North Central Missouri College in Trenton this past school year.
The lefthander quickly fanned the next batter on three pitches, the last a biting, back-foot slider, that offered hope the Mudcats’ deficit would be only one run when they got back in the dugout.
However, a couple of pitches into the next at-bat, which ultimately would end in Sewell’s second-straight whiff, a low pitch eluded catcher Gaven Strobel and an insurance run dashed home from third.
As it turned out, the extra run didn’t make any difference as Lakers reliever Robin Allen retired the Fish in order to gain the win for himself and his team, which was delayed in its arrival from southeast Minnesota by a backup resulting from a wreck on I-35.
Allen had a U-turn outing after entering during the 3-runs Chillicothe seventh.
He came on as ALL’s third hurler after Andrew Williams’ 1-out, line-drive single through the hole into left field – only the second Mudcats hit and the last, it proved – was followed by consecutive bases on balls, the latter of those two the second accepted by Chillicothean Derek Hussey on the night.
Entering with the sacks jammed, but a 4-1 lead, Allen’s first offering hit pinch-hitter Strobel in the left shoulder, forcing Williams home from third. The righthander then walked Luke Schwartz on five pitches, narrowing the gap to one run, and missed badly with a 3-2 pitch to Peyton Cormane, who fanned each of his other four plate appearances. Ball four let Hussey saunter down the line from third with the game-tying run, still with no outs.
A visit to the hill by a member of the Albert Lea coaching staff clearly contained some magical incantation, apparently, as Allen suddenly reversed his fortunes.
With the Nos. 3, 4, and 5 batters in the Mudcats lineup to deal with – although, admittedly, being the first game of the season, determining who might be the best, most-dangerous Fish with the bat was mostly guesswork for the coaching staff, Allen continued to be unhittable, but now in a positive way for his team.
With the go-ahead run only 90 feet from the plate, he struck out the next three Mudcats on a total of 11 pitches, shockingly preventing Chillicothe from seemingly-inevitably regaining the lead it once held at 1-0.
Once on the right track, Allen never wavered. After fanning the last three batters of the seventh, he struck out the side in the eighth and completed the 1-2-3 ninth with the seventh “K” of his 2-2/3-innings stint. He retired the last nine men he faced and only two of the 11 Fish he pitched to put the ball in play.
Chillicothe rarely hit the ball sharply or with any authority in both teams’ 2018 opener and their first-ever meeting (the Minnesota team was only started last year). More than half (14) of its outs were by strikeout.
The Mudcats’ only lead did last a few innings as Chillicothe starting pitcher Jayden Grover (Minnesota-Crookston) threw very effectively through five frames.
Leading off the bottom of the third inning, Fish left fielder Nick Ray barely legged out a high 2-bouncer over the second base bag. He was on the move when Hussey, finally playing for his hometown team after being a member of the MINK League’s St. Joseph Mustangs, hit a slow grounder toward shortstop. As both the third baseman and shortstop pursued the roller and the latter made a quick pickup and strong throw to get the batter at first, Ray rounded second and kept going. On a close play, his head-first slide into third base was ruled to have barely beaten a throw there.
With a man at third and one out, the Lakers – surprisingly for an early inning in a scoreless game in which both teams figured to eventually have to dig into their bullpens – opted to play their infield in.
That decision likely should have paid off as Chillicothe starting catcher Jared Fry pulled a 2-hopper to the drawn-in first baseman as Ray bolted for home. A good throw would have retired the runner and kept the game scoreless, but it sailed a bit hit, forcing the Lakers catcher to stretch up the third-base line and reach above head height to try to spear it. The ball hit in his mitt, but, with Ray nearly there, squirted up and out as the catcher tried to begin lowering his leather for the possible tag. That allowed the run to score as Fry reached on the fielder’s choice.
The 1-0 Chillicothe lead held through the fourth and fifth, but, as Grover tired and his control waned a bit, it didn’t survive the sixth.
A leadoff hit and consecutive 1-out singles filled the bases with ALL players and brought righthander Tanner Marshall to the mound, replacing the Mudcats’ starter.
Marshall immediately sparked hope that Chillicothe could escape when he fanned the first batter he faced on three deliveries. However, as Allen later would do to bring the Fish back even, Marshall walked two men in a row to force in the tying and lead runs.
With the sacks still full, Liam Spence’s grounder up the middle was fielded, but the throw to first was late as a third Albert Lea run scored. However, the runner who had been at second base when the ball was hit, tried to score, as well, but was cut down by first baseman Connor Quick’s alert, on-target peg to Fry.
A fluke play in the top of the seventh added to the Mudcats’ deficit.
Following a 1-out single and steal of second, a soft grounder was sent to the left side between third baseman Cole Taylor and shortstop Cormane. As Taylor tried to angle back and to his left to get it and Cormane ranged in and to his right, they collided as both bent down to try to glove the ball. As they spun off each other, the ball trickled beyond them and barely to the edge of the outfield grass, allowing the Lakers runner from second base to round third and score without a throw for a 4-1 margin.
Statistically, of the four Chillicothe pitchers used, the only one not to have allowed a run or a hit was hometowner Sewell. Wright (0-1) took the loss, yielding two runs in 1-1/3 innings. Grover was charged with three runs in 5-1/3 innings and Marshall with one in 1-2/3 innings. All five Albert Lea runs were earned.
The Minnesota team used three hurlers to hold the Fish to their two hits.
Chillicothe will make its MINK League debut for 2018 Friday night (June 1) at Sedalia, facing the Bombers at 7 p.m. Returning 2017 Mudcats ace Parker Kirkpatrick will get the call on the hill for Chillicothe against 2-0 Sedalia, which defeated Jefferson City for a second-straight time Thursday, 10-4. The Bombers are 2-0 in league, too.
The Mudcats then will turn around and host Sedalia both Saturday and Sunday nights, Saturday at the usual 7:05 p.m. and Sunday at 6:05 p.m. According to Chillicothe rookie head coach Caleb Bounds, Jack Cavanaugh will start on the mound Saturday and William Cain on Sunday. Both are righthanders, like Kirkpatrick.