Monday (July 16, 2018) home victory, keyed by four unearned runs in first inning, kept Fish's "magic number" for elimination from MINK League playoffs chase frozen at three

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Their backs to the wall, the Chillicothe Mudcats pounced repeatedly on scoring opportunities – almost always with two outs or as the second out was being recorded – and, in concert with a second excellent start by righthander Trae Brownell against the St. Joseph Mustangs, crisply dispatched the visiting Mustangs 8-2 at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium Monday night (July 16, 2018).
While the overall odds of Chillicothe qualifying for the approaching MINK League playoffs remain very long, Monday’s win froze the Mudcats’ “magic number” for elimination from that race at three.
The Mudcats raised their league record to 12-23 and their overall mark to 14-24. St. Joseph slid to 17-19 in the league and 20-20 in all games. The Mustangs still lead Chillicothe by 4-1/2 games with the Mudcats having seven games left and the Ponies six. Should the two teams finish ties, the Mudcats would have the tiebreaker advantage, based on intra-division record.
Chillicothe will be idle Tuesday night before playing its second-to-last home game of the summer Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. against the Jefferson City Renegades. That contest is a rescheduled one, following a June 21 rainout.
Monday in Chillicothe, after Brownell (2-4) stranded a pair of Mustangs in the top of the first inning, were handed four unearned runs by St. Joseph starting pitcher Brennon Covington and the defense behind him.
A throwing error let speedy Mudcats leadoff batter Peyton Cormane reach. He was at second with two outs when, as he stole his league-leading 31st base – tied for second-most in Mudcats history, the throw to third was too high and sailed down the left field line. He jogged home with the game’s first run and Chillicothe had a lead.
Although there were two outs and no one on base, the Mudcats weren’t done with their first inning.
Consecutive singles by Cole Taylor and Nate Gawelko had men at first and third for Connor Quick, a Brownell teammate at North Central Missouri College in Trenton the past two years. With Gawelko running off first base, the lefthanded-hitting Quick punched a double down the left-field line, driving home both runners. Quick then dashed home on Dalton Robison’s hit to left.
Brownell preserved the lead very capably, corralling the Mustangs’ offense on only three hits and two runs over his 7-innings stint, although he did walk six and hit one.
The Novinger, Mo., resident who played at Trenton, Mo.’s, North Central Missouri College the past two years, held St. Joseph to only two hits and one run over five innings in a June start, but that was enough for him to be tagged with the loss that night.
St. Joseph did its only scoring against him this time in the seventh . However, behind 7-2 after a bases=full infield hit and walk, the Ponies left the bases loaded to end their only shot at coming back. Reliever Jack Cavanaugh struck out the side in the eighth as he worked two hitless, scoreless innings.
After the big first inning, Chillicothe importantly tacked on cushion runs – one at a time – in the second, fourth, fifth, and seventh frames.
In the Fish’s second, Cormane’s 1-out, gap-splitting triple to right-center field was cashed in by Andrew Williams’ 2-outs single to center.
The fourth saw recent addition Preston Ludwick, a college teammate of Cormane’s at Centenary College in Louisiana, match Cormane’s 3-bagger to right-center as the first batter.  Luke Schwartz, batting ninth, immediately drove him home with a hit over the second baseman’s head, making it 6-0.
The margin grew again the next frame when hits by Taylor and Quick and a walk to Robison had the bases loaded for Ludwick. Showing unexpected speed for a player primarily added to the team less than two weeks before to pitch, Ludwick beat the relay to first on his sharp grounder to the shortstop, letting Taylor score the Mudcats’ seventh run.
Following St. Joseph’s posting of a pair of markers in the top of the seventh, Chillicothe mitigated any momentum the Mustangs might have created by partially offsetting them.
Robison singled with one out, went to second on a wild pickoff throw to first by a Mustangs relief hurler, moved to third on Ludwick’s infield hit off the pitcher’s foot, and scored after the St. Joseph third baseman threw to first after fielding Schwartz’s bunt.
Statistically, Quick’s two hits and two runs batted in paced the Mudcats’ attack. Preston Ludwick, Robison, and Taylor joined him in having 2-hits nights. Chillicothe out-hit St. Joseph 13-3.
With their performances – Robison was two for three, Taylor two for five with two runs scored, that duo continues to battle for the team lead in total hits for the season. Robison (Rockford, Ill./Salem U.), a late addition to the roster prior to the start of the season when it became likely planned returnee Ramger Iglesias either would be delayed or not come back to Chillicothe at all (the latter of which proved to be the case), leads currently with 32, one more than Taylor (Lee’s Summit, Mo./Central Missouri). They also have the most at-bats on the club.
Losing pitcher Covington was charged with seven runs – three earned – on 10 hits across five innings. No Mustang had more than one hit off Chillicothe pitching as the Mudcats earned their third victory in five 2018 meetings with their nearest and keenest rival.
With that 31st theft of the season in the opening inning, Cormane (Pineville, La.) tied the late Steve Martin, an outfielder for the second edition of the Fish in 2003, for the second-largest single-season total in team history. Now, only Darian Sandford’s 50 in 2009 surpasses Cormane’s 2018 thievery.
Sandford was caught 13 times that season, while Cormane has been cut down only twice. Among the four Mudcats who have ever swiped 30 or more bags in a season – outfielder Chris Krogmeier had 30 for the organization’s first MINK champions, Cormane currently has the highest success rate. Only a slump with the bat the second half of the season has prevented him from making a serious run at Sandford’s record.