Missed late scoring chances, pair of runs by Clarinda in ninth prevent Chillicothe from grabbing third-straight MINK League baseball victory

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Even with the visiting Clarinda (Iowa) A’s getting, by far, their best-pitched game yet in the very young 2019 MINK League college-level summer baseball season, the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats looked likely to claim a third-consecutive triumph over the Iowans Thursday night (June 6, 2019), but things unraveled at the last minute.

Ahead 2-0 in the second inning and later reclaiming 1-run leads in the sixth and eight, the host Mudcats stranded seven baserunners in the last four innings and saw the A’s touch up would-be closer Tyler Ingram for three soft runs – two unearned – in the top of the ninth and snatch away victory by a 6-4 count.

It was the first time in six games this season Clarinda had not allowed its opponent to score at least 10 runs in a game. Only two nights before, the Mudcats had swamped the A’s with 17 tallies and a team-record 23 hits in a 17-1 conquest at Clarinda.

The defeat left the Fish with a 2-2 record – both overall and in league play – as they head into Friday and Saturday night 7:05 p.m.. home games against league foe Jefferson City.

Thursday’s home loss to Clarinda saw both reliever Ingram (0-2), the only Chillicothe hurler to take any losses yet this season, and the fielders around him culpable in letting the pending victory get away.

Entering with a 4-3 lead after the Mudcats had broken a 3-3 tie in their eighth, thanks to an A’s “E” (error), Ingram immediately surrendered a solidly-struck ground-ball single into right field to the A’s first batter in the top of the ninth.

After striking out the next man, he hit the No. 9 batter in the Clarinda order with a pitch to push the potential tying run into scoring position at second base and placing the go-ahead run at first.

On the first or second pitch to the next batter, Ingram’s low delivery over the plate went off the mitt of catcher Logan Eickhoff, between his feet, and to the backstop, moving the runners up 90 feet.

The Clarinda batter, Joe Kelleher, then hit a soft ground ball between the first and second baseman that was only able to be knocked down and kept on the infield dirt. The tying run came home from third on the play and the lead run went to third with one out.

With runners on the corners, Ingram induced a bouncing ball to the left side of the infield which offered some hope of an inning-ending double play that would have sent the game to the home half of the ninth tied 4-4. However, third baseman Kole Ficken had the ball go off his glove for an error, resulting in no outs on the play and a 5-4 Clarinda lead.

Another booted bouncer by Ficken then loaded the bases and a deep fly ball to right field served as a sacrifice fly that made it 6-4.

After leaving the bases loaded in the eighth when they inched back ahead and stranding two runners in the sixth, as well, the Mudcats got a pair of 2-outs singles in the ninth, but a popup closed it out for the visitors.

Chillicothe had drawn first blood in the opening inning, mostly due to Clarinda miscues then, too.

Blaine Ray’s leadoff single was followed by a bouncer back to the A’s starting pitcher by Marcus Gonzalez.

The pitcher’s throw toward second base trying to get Ray sailed high and wide and into right-center field, allowing Ray to continue on to third, but the flub’s didn’t end there. The center fielder mishandled the overthrow as he rushed to try to keep Gonzalez from taking second. In the process, the ball’s return to the infield was delayed enough that, not only did Gonzalez move up to second, but Ray was waved home and scored without a throw.

The Mudcats doubled their lead to 2-0 in the second on a 1-out single to right field by Tate Wargo, a stolen base, and Jack Grace’s booming, ground-rule double to deep left-center field about 380 feet away.

An error by the Mudcats led to Clarinda tying things at 2-2 in the fourth.

After a 1-out hit, Ficken fumbled a grounder and a ripped double up the alley in right-center field by No. 9 batter Jacob Flores made it 2-1.Kelleher’s slowly-hit single to right tied it, but, on both that hit and a subsequent caught pop fly that seemed to provide opportunities for Flores to score, he was held at third and ended up dying there.

Chillicothe regained the lead in the sixth when, with two outs, the first of two Ficken singles was compounded by a Clarinda throwing error that let the batter get to second. Wargo then punched his second hit of the game into right, driving Ficken home.

The A’s pulled even again in the seventh on a Flores 1-out triple – again to the wall in right-center field – and a high wild pitch.

The Mudcats once more used a miscue to plate another go-ahead marker in the eighth.

A 2-out throwing error by the Iowans’ third baseman let Chet Merritt reach. A swinging bunt by Ficken could not be fielded by the pitcher or third baseman in time to make a play at first, adding a second baserunner. When Wargo waited out a walk from Clarinda relief pitcher Seth Sas, who had come into the game at the start of the third inning, the home team had a chance to put up a crooked number against the seemingly-tiring hurler with one swing of the bat.

However, Sas steadied to get a strikeout on a 3-2 pitch and looked to be out of the inning unscathed when pinch-hitter Dom Trevino hit a soft grounder right at the second baseman. However, the fielder bobbled the ball just long enough that a hustling Trevino beat his throw to first. Merritt scored on the error, putting the home team back on top. With a chance to punch a hole in the game, though, Ray left the sacks jammed with a soft liner to second and Clarinda made Chillicothe pay the next inning.

Statistically, prior to Ingram’s last-inning, partially-undermined wobble, Chillicothe’s pitching had been solid, if not flawless.

Starter Scott Duensing pitched into the fifth inning with only three hits, no walks, a hit batsman, and five strikeouts before being lifted in favor of righthander Collin Chalmers. Tagging in for the lefty with a run in and two on, Chalmers allowed Kelleher’s tying hit before escaping with the score knotted.

Chalmers threw two innings, but left after his wild pitch following Flores’ triple in the seventh made it 3-3. Newly-arrived southpaw Kale Harris retired both men he faced after taking over from Chalmers in the seventh and then worked a 1-2-3 eighth. Despite that success, when the Mudcats regained the lead in the eighth, head coach Caleb Bounds opted to switch to Ingram and the change didn’t work out, resulting in the A’s Sas getting a much-deserved victory for his long relief stint.

Offensively, Chillicothe out-hit the visitors 10-7, getting two hits each from Wargo, Ray, and Ficken. Flores swung the A’s biggest bat with his triple, double, and one run batted in in three official at-bats (he also was hit by a pitch and scored the go-ahead run in the ninth. Kelleher and DH Bradley McClean also had 2-hits games.

The teams combined for eight errors.