Two-runs home runs by Cavanaugh, Gawelko back strong pitching of Ludwick, Sewell at St. Joseph as Chillicothe (Mo.) college-level, wood-bat team prevents elimination from MINK League playoffs race Friday

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Although very much on life support, the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats college-level baseball team extended its stretch of likely-too-late strong performances Friday night (July 20, 2018), combining a pair of early home runs with outstanding pitching to wallop the St. Joseph Mustangs 10-2 and stave off elimination from the MINK League playoffs chase for at least another day.
Their only chance of qualifying for the playoffs being winning their last five games and having St. Joseph drop its last five, the Mudcats jumped in front 3-0 in the top of the first inning, which – it turned out – would be enough for victory, thanks to the combined hurling of starting and winning pitcher Preston Ludwick (1-3) and Chillicothean Tristen Sewell, who gained his first save with three innings of 1-run ball.
At game’s end, Chillicothe’s league record stood at 14-24, four games back of St. Joseph’s 18-20 ledger with four games remaining for each.
The Mudcats, improving to 16-25 overall with their third triumph by six runs or more in the last four outings, are to visit the Clarinda (Iowa) A’s Saturday night (July 21) for a 7 o’clock game. At the same time, St. Joseph will be hosting North Division leader Sedalia. If Chillicothe gets what it wants – and needs – from tonight’s action, it will stay alive again and Sedalia will clinch the division’s regular-season title and top seeding for the upcoming division playoffs. If not, the Mudcats will be eliminated.
Friday’s Mudcats victory at St. Joseph – their second of the week over the defending league champions and fourth in the teams’ six regular-season meetings – was set in motion right away, first with a “small-ball” tally, then some big bopping.
Speedy leadoff batter Peyton Cormane’s bouncer in the hole at shortstop not only produced an infield hit, but left him at second on a wild throw. He then stole his league-leading 34th base and scored on Nico Burgarello’s high-bouncing infield hit to the first baseman.
With two outs, the Chillicothe lead tripled when right fielder Jack Cavanaugh (Brookfield, Ill./Joliet (Ill.) CC) climbed all over a Joseph Heitpas pitch, sending an opposite-field missile over the Phil Welch Stadium fence in deep right-center field, making it 3-0. That moved Cavanaugh, initially envisioned as mostly a pitcher for the Fish this summer, into a tie with Nick Ray and Gaven Strobel for the team lead in home runs with a modest two.
With Ludwick, a teammate of Cormane’s at Louisiana’s Centenary College and a midseason addition who has provided a real spark both on the mound and as a batter the past 10 days, blanking St. Joseph the first two innings, Chillicothe raised the stakes in the third.
With two outs and none on, Cavanaugh singled and designated hitter Nate Gawelko (Phoenix, Ariz./Grand Canyon U.) got out in front of righty Heitpas’ pitch and lashed a drive over the fence in straightaway left field. Hfirst home run of the season made it 5-0.
Ludwick blanked St. Joseph until the fourth and departed after the sixth with only three hits allowed and one run allowed. Before lefthanded reliever Sewell threw his first pitch of the night, Chillicothe initiated a new push that salted the win away.
In the top of the seventh, with Heitpas – who struck out 11 – still toeing the rubber,  Jonathan Carratala singled, stole second, and advanced on a wild pitch. When Strobel then swung and missed on a 2-strikes pitch in the dirt, Carratala’s threat to try for home as the catcher prepared to throw the ball to first influenced an off-line throw that let Strobel reach while the lead runner stayed put.
After a wild pitch let the runner at first move up 90 feet, Cormane stroked a hit to left to drive in the sixth Mudcats run and end Heitpas’ night. As Strobel held up at third, despite the left fielder’s bobbling the ball, Cormane kept running and sneaked into second base safely.
After the new St. Joseph pitcher fanned the first man he faced, Strobel scored on a short wild pitch and Cole Taylor plopped a pop fly into short left-center field to bring in the eighth Mudcats run of the game.
The next inning began with a Gawelko single and Ray being hit by a pitch. A passed ball sent them to third and second bases, respectively, and a wild pitch scored Gawelko as Ray took third.  With one out in the eighth, Cormane’s fly ball to center made it 10-2, Chillicothe.
Statistically for the night, Gawelko and Cavanaugh had identical stats, going two for five with two runs batted in and a home run. Cormane was two for three plus a walk with two runs scored and two driven in. Jonathan Carratala had two hits, as well, as the Fish out-hit the Ponies 10-5 and left only five runners on, compared to St. Joseph’s eight.
On the hill, after righthander Ludwick’s outstanding six innings, Sewell held St. Joseph to one run – it was earned, despite scoring on a booted 1-out grounder – on two hits. He walked two and fanned the same number. By going three innings, he gained credit for a save, despite always working with at least a 6-runs lead or larger.
St. Joseph had only one batter with multiple hits. No. 9 batter Zach Perdue went two for four.