Despite rally, Thursday's defeat moves Chillicothe team to cusp of elimination from playoffs race. Also solidifies club's first-ever losing season in 17-years history
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Playing with desperation, the Chillicothe Mudcats college-level baseball team charged back from a 7-0 deficit after 3-1/2 innings Thursday night to lead 8-7 after six. Their guests, the Sedalia Bombers, then displayed why they have the MINK League’s best record, calmly posting the league game’s last three runs to prevail 10-8 and put Chillicothe on the brink of elimination from the league playoffs race.
The Mudcats’ resolute bid to extend their brief winning streak to a modest three in a row fell short, leaving them with a league record of 13-24. Because the St. Joseph Mustangs, who currently stand third in the MINK’s North Division, topped second-place Clarinda, Iowa, 9-6 Thursday, Chillicothe’s “magic number” for mathematical elimination from the chase for one of the division’s three postseason berths shriveled to one.
If the Mudcats lose any of their last five scheduled games or St. Joseph wins any of its last five, Chillicothe would be unable to catch the Mustangs for the last North berth. The Fish already were mathematically unable to catch second-place Clarinda.
Chillicothe is due to visit St. Joseph tonight (July 20) for a 7 p.m. game at Phil Welch Stadium.
By dipping to 15-25 with Thursday’s defeat, the 2018 Mudcats also became the first edition of the Chillicothe organization’s 17 squads to have a losing season. Only once before had the Fish closed a year at .500 and never below, but the setback against the Bombers assured that the best overall mark this year’s team could post would be 24-25. To achieve that, Chillicothe would have to win all of its remaining regular-season games and St. Joseph would have to lose all of its – enabling the Mudcats to slip into the playoffs – and then claim the league crown with a sweep of four playoff games.
Thursday night’s contest – the Mudcats’ home finale, barring a long-shot appearance in the MINK League championship series – came close to being perhaps the host’s most memorable triumph of the summer.
After Sedalia increased its early lead to 7-0 with four tallies in the top of the fourth inning off starting pitcher James “River” Wright (Bucklin, Mo./Missouri Southern State), Chillicothe mounted a stirring comeback.
Following hits by Jack Cavanaugh and Connor Quick, a sacrifice fly by Nick Ray and Jared Fry’s run-scoring single in the bottom of the fourth got the Fish on the scoreboard.
A scoring fly ball from Cole Taylor plated Luke Schwartz in the fifth and a Sedalia error let Jonathan Carratala race home from second base to put another couple of runs in the Chillicothe column, making things interest at 7-4, Bombers.
More scoring could have occurred in the Fish fifth, but, on the play on which Carratala scored, a runner was easily retired trying to advance from first to third on the booted ground ball and then the remaining Mudcat was trapped off second base and tagged out to end an inning in which Sedalia starting pitcher and 2017 Mudcat Tyler Clark retired only one batter – on a sacrifice bunt.
Despite the baserunning breakdowns, the Mudcats kept up their swim against the current the next inning.
A leadoff double by Quick – the third of his three hits, Ray being hit by a pitch, Fry’s fine sacrifice bunt, and Dalton Robison’s 2-runs single to left cut the Mudcats’ deficit – once seven runs – to one with one out.
Knocked out of the game by Robison’s hit, Clark turned the ball over to lefthander Nathan Croner, who immediately walked the first batter he faced – No. 9 man Schwartz.
After a strikeout made it two outs with two on, lefty-swinging Nico Burgarello split the gap in left-center field perfectly with a line drive, sending Robison at second home with the tying tally and Schwartz racing home uncontested from first to give Chillicothe an improbable 8-7 edge.
Sedalia stayed calm, however, tying the game – with the help of a key balk called on workhorse reliever Hayden House – on a sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh. Then, in the eighth with Chillicothe head coach Caleb Bounds gambling with sparingly-used Ryann Gray (0-1), the Bombers recaptured the upper hand after Gray sandwiched a bunt basehit between two bases on balls. A quick switch on the hill to Cavanaugh produced a home-hopes-heightening foul popup for the first out, but Nick Hagedorn’s sizzled, 2-runs single to center field with one out snapped the tie by plating two runs.
Battling to the very end, Chillicothe put its first two men aboard in the bottom of the ninth via walks to Carratala and Burgarello. A strikeout and Cavanaugh’s caught drive to deep center field were followed by Quick working to draw a walk that filled the bases. However, with the potential tying run in scoring position at second and game-winner at first in Quick, a forceout bouncer to third ended the game.
Statistically, although the Mudcats out-hit Sedalia 12-11, the difference proved to be the Bombers’ better bullpen work.
Winner Croner allowed only one run and one hit over the last 3-1/3 innings after replacing Clark. Chillicothe’s trio of relief hurlers, working five frames, didn’t surrender a bunch of runs or hits – three of each, but complicated their task with wildness. Mudcats relievers walked six and threw 52 balls, compared to only 49 strikes.
The Chillicothe offense was paced by Quick’s 3-for-4 night which included a double and two runs scored. Fry went two for three with two runs driven in and Carratala and Burgarello each were two for four, the latter with two RBI.
Sedalia had four sticks with two hits apiece, including a pair of booming doubles off the deep fences of “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium by Gavin Jones, the recent MINK League Home Run Derby champion.