For only third time this summer, Chillicothe college-level, wood-bat baseball team posts back-to-back victories with 12-5 home MINK League triumph over Jefferson City Wednesday, July 18, 2018
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — The climb up the cliff the Chillicothe Mudcats college-level baseball team first plunged off during the opening 10 days of their 2018 season and then plummeted back down during a 3-12 stretch in late June and early July remains nearly straight up, but, to team members’ credit, they seem to be giving it a try anyway.
For only the third time this summer, the Mudcats have won consecutive games, jumping out to a quick 4-0 lead and eventually claiming a 12-5 MINK League victory over the visiting Jefferson City Renegades Wednesday night (July 18).
That came a couple of nights after paddling the St. Joseph Mustangs, also at home.
Behind stalwart starting pitching from deceptive lefthander Noah McClanahan and a multi-pronged hitting attack, Chillicothe kept alive its flickering hopes of making the league playoffs and avoiding their first-ever losing season.
With Wednesday’s win, the Mudcats gained a half-game on idle, third-place St. Joseph in the race for the last North Division playoff spot in the approaching MINK League playoffs. Chillicothe, now 13-23 in the league and 15-24 overall, stands four games back of the Mustangs with each having six games remaining – one against each other this Friday.
While the Mudcats’ “magic number” for elimination from the playoffs race remained at three, Chillicothe does not control its own destiny. Should St. Joseph win three of its five games against opponents other than the Mudcats, the defending league champion would clinch the last playoffs berth, even if Chillicothe “wins out.”
The Mudcats play their last home game of the regular season tonight (Thursday) at 7:05 against the Sedalia Bombers, who have all but clinched the North Division regular-season title. Sedalia leads Clarinda, Iowa, by three games with five to play.
Wednesday’s Chillicothe win seemed likely as it built a 6-0 lead through four innings behind starting and winning pitcher McClanahan and was in front 7-2 going to the seventh.
However, the seeming certainty of home-team victory faded sharply for a time.
Jefferson City notched a run in the seventh and then two more in the eighth and had the bases loaded in a 7-5 game as the Fish’s oft-vulnerable bullpen wobbled.
Finally, though, second reliever Hayden House managed to get an inning-ending groundout to shortstop on a 3-2 pitch to escape the eighth with the hosts still up by two.
Their once-comfortable margin severely shrunken, the Mudcats exploited a pair of Renegades errors in the home half of the eighth to score five times and salt their second-straight victory away.
The bottom of the eighth began with Connor Quick (Fenton, Mo./North Central Missouri College) swatting his team-high third hit of the night into center field leading off. A 1-out walk to Luke Schwartz, who had two earlier safeties, was followed by a high-bouncing ball to shortstop. Somehow, perhaps getting an odd hop, the Renegades shortstop failed to glove the ball and ended up with an injury which forced him from the game.
With the bases loaded, Peyton Cormane (Pineville, La./Centenary College), who already had two hits and three runs batted in, waited out a base on balls, forcing home Quick.
After a fielder’s choice cut down a would-be run at the plate, Cole Taylor (Lee’s Summit, Mo./Central Missouri) effectively cemented the triumph by spanking an opposite-field double just inside the left-field line that scored a pair of run, making it 10-5.
For extra insurance, Gaven Strobel’s grounder to deep short drew an off-line throw to first on what was going to be a close play. Nico Burgarello scored from third on the infield hit and Taylor followed him home from second when the throw to first got away.
Nick Ray’s 2-runs single to center highlighted Chillicothe’s 4-runs second inning that initially put it ahead. That solid grounder up the middle followed Quick’s perfectly-placed, 2-on, none-out push bunt that eventually died right on the third-base line chalk.
Another bunt single, this time by Schwartz, reloaded the bases with Fish, still with no outs. A third run of the inning scored on a double-play grounder before Cormane earned his first RBI of the night with his first hit. He followed that hit with his 32nd and 33rd stolen bases of the season, giving him sole possession of second place on the Mudcats’ all-time, single-season steals list behind Darian Sandford (50 in 2009). Cormane entered the game tied with the late Steve Martin, who had 31 in 2003.
Staked to the 4-0 lead after two innings, similar to the 4-0 margin the Chillicothe bats gave Trae Brownell after one Monday, McClanahan’s speed-changing variety of pitches had Jefferson City batters off-balance to the degree that the lefthander (rural St. Joseph, Mo./Frank Phillips Coll.) took not only a shutout, but a no-hitter, into the fifth inning.
Finally, with one out and two on in the Renegades’ fifth, No. 9 batter Jake Slunder slashed a sharp single into left for the visitors’ first hit.
A batter later, they had their first run as Logan Hudson, Jefferson City’s best hitter singled to center. A second run scored on a force play, but the Chillicothe pitcher stranded runners at the corners to complete the fifth still up 6-2.
The hosts had tacked on two runs in the fourth when Cormane’s 2-runs single down the right-field line plated Ray and Schwartz, who had begun the inning with consecutive hits and advanced on an infield out by Cole Johnson.
After Jefferson City got to McClanahan in the fifth, the second of Quick’s three hits made it 7-2 in the bottom half, driving home Strobel from second after he’d walked and moved up on a wild pitch.
When McClanahan, making only his third start after a half-dozen relief outings the first month of the season and posting his second-straight sturdy showing, walked two of the first three Jefferson City batters in the sixth, he was replaced by righthander Nate Gawelko.
The new hurler gave his first opponent an unintentional free pass to fill the sacks, but delivered consecutive strikeouts to strand three and keep Chillicothe in front by five.
A catcher’s interference error helped the Renegades nibble a run off their deficit in the seventh before Gawelko permitted another run on a walk, a hit, and a groundout in the eighth. When he walked another man, bringing the potential tying run into the batter’s box with two outs, House was called on.
He surrendered a run-scoring single and then loaded the bases with a walk, advancing the potential tying run into scoring position. With all three runners on the move on a critical, full-count offering to cleanup man Mike Million, the Mudcats’ busiest pitcher this summer (in terms of number of appearances) induced a bouncer to Burgarello at shortstop, who threw across the diamond in time to end the inning.
Statistically, soft-throwing southpaw McClanahan (1-1) held Jeff City to two runs on two hits in 5-1/3 innings, despite walking a half-dozen.
Preston Ludwick notched his first save in his first opportunity, working a scoreless ninth.
Offensively, in addition to having Cormane with four runs batted in and Taylor and Ray with two each, Chillicothe had multi-hits games from five batters, led by Quick’s three. Jack Cavanaugh, Schwartz, Ray, and Cormane had two each.
Taylor’s double drew him into a tie with Dalton Robison, who was out of the lineup, for the team lead in hits with 32. His two RBI and Cormane’s four left those two dead even atop the club with 21 runs batted in apiece. Despite more than 30 at-bats fewer than either of that duo, Northwest Missouri State-bound Quick’s “ribbie” Wednesday gave him 19.