Down 4-0 in eighth inning, Fish plate four in bottom of 13th for 9-8 walkoff MINK League baseball triumph over Jefferson City June 8, 2019
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Employing one path to victory with a low likelihood of consistently-positive results Saturday night (June 8) could help foster a more-reliably-productive team dynamic for the 2019 Chillicothe Mudcats college-level, summer baseball team.
Rarely does a baseball club which produces only one hit in the first 7-2/3 innings of a scheduled 9-innings game emerge triumphant, but, thanks to an overall sturdy effort by the four pitchers they used and a just-in-time awakening of their bats, the Mudcats continued their optimistic start to this season by coming back from a 4-0 deficit after seven innings and 8-5 in the middle of the final frame to capture a thrilling 9-8 MINK League win over visiting Jefferson City.
Scoring three eighth-inning tallies after the first two batters were retired and then netting another pair in the ninth, the 2019 Fish (4-2, 4-2 MINK) forced to extra innings a contest Jefferson City’s Renegades seemed to have tucked safely in their back pocket.
Then, after the guests parlayed two walks, two singles, and a wild pitch into three go-ahead markers in the 13th, Chillicothe produced its second walk-off triumph of the first six games of the season with a 4-runs surge in its lucky 13th.
After Dom Trevino’s inning-starting scorcher inside the bag at first base for a leadoff double and Nolan Metcalf’s sharp single past the shortstop quickly brought the tying run to the plate, game Renegades reliever Peyton Leeper – who had played shortstop the first 7-plus innings before taking over on the hill in the eighth – was out of gas.
Even as a reliever scrambled to get loose, Leeper labored on – walking Logan Eickhoff to load the bases, then Blaine Ray to force in a run and put the potential tying run in scoring position, still with no outs.
At last replaced on the bump by righthander Xander Lovin, Leeper – shifted to second base to keep his glove in the game – could only watch helplessly as Lovin hit Kole Ficken with his second delivery, narrowing the Renegades’ lead to 8-7 and keeping the bases juiced.
Almost inevitably, the Mudcats completed their second stirring comeback as Chet Merritt’s high bouncer to the right of the shortstop offered no chance for a play anywhere as Eickhoff dented the dish with the tying run.
Jefferson City’s only hope, at that point, was that 10th-inning machinations by Chillicothe head coach Caleb Bounds which left the home team to play the rest of the game with one of its normal pitchers patrolling left field and batting eighth and its hurler, Anthony Rogers, in the No. 9 hole in the lineup would provide an escape hatch, since those were the next two lineup spots after Merritt’s hit.
Playing a wild guess, Bounds pinch-hit for emergency left fielder Chandler Griggs, who had pinch-run in the 10th and struck out in the 12th, with a fellow moundsman, Tyler Venditti.
After taking a ball, then two strikes, Venditti stayed alive with a foul ball before making good contact with the fifth pitch he saw. He sent it in the air toward right-center field, not particularly deep, but in a location which required the right fielder to be running at full speed toward center field to get to it. While the catch was made, the outfielder had no chance to make a throw home which would prevent Blaine Ray from scoring after tagging up. When his foot landed on the plate, Chillicothe had won for the fourth time in its last five outings as it headed out on a week-long string of road games in southwest Missouri.
Off back-to-back home victories over Jefferson City, the Fish swim south Sunday for a 7 p.m. game with another MINK League South Division team, the Nevada Griffons. After returning to Chillicothe after that game, they’ll follow an open date Monday with league games at Joplin Tuesday through Thursday night and then a Friday night doubleheader and Saturday evening game at Springfield against defending South Division champion Ozark.
Following an “off” day Sunday, June 16, they’ll have – barring rainouts – an eighth-consecutive road game at defending league champion Sedalia June 17 before returning to Haney Field action – once more against Jeff City – on Tuesday, June 18.
The Mudcats’ prospects of posting a “W” in their homestand finale were poor when a pair of Renegades southpaws kept their bats silent the first seven innings. The only hit they’d managed when, trailing 4-0, Ray stepped in following a walk to pinch-hitter Logan Eickhoff with two outs in the eighth was a third-inning double by newly-arrived catcher Brady Welch on a ball not hit hard enough to quite carry out to the diving left fielder.
However, because starting pitcher Brandan Van Buren had battled, without great stuff or command, to keep Jeff City to four runs – three earned – in 3-plus innings, and relievers Dylan Govin – like Welch an arrival only during the day Saturday – and Jack Albright had thrown shutout ball since, the game still was within reach. When Ray finally broke the long hitless spell against a third Jefferson City lefthander with a soft single just over the head of the first baseman, he and his teammates had cracked open the door to a possible comeback. With faltering relief pitching by the visitors, the Fish barged through that barely-opened barrier.
After a walk to Ficken loaded the bases and prompted Jeff City head coach Mike DeMilia to summon Leeper from shortstop to the mound. With only a few warmup pitches, he could not stem the tide for a bit, by which time it had become anyone’s game.
Merritt greeted the new hurler with a line-drive single to center, scoring two. A walk to Welch reloaded the bases and yet another to Brandan Settles allowed a third run to stroll across the dish.
Even though Leeper struck out the next Mudcat to keep his team in front 4-3 and the Renegades finally nicked third Chillicothe hurler Jack Albright for a hitless run in the top of the ninth, the sense was that the home team “hammer” still might deliver a crushing blow. It ended up doing so twice.
In the ninth, Metcalf pulled a hit into left-center with one out and Eickhoff did the same. When the ball was mishandled in the outfield for a bit, Metcalf headed for third base, drawing an ill-advised throw which let Eickhoff to alertly take the potential tying run into second.
Their extra 90 feet turned out to be critical when Ray pulled a 2-2 pitch into left for a hit that tied the game. Were it not for the error or the decision not to throw to second after it and thus keep the tying run at first base, the subsequent strikeouts Leeper notched would have ended the game as a 5-4 Jeff City triumph. Instead, the contest headed to extra innings.
Surprisingly, Chillicothe couldn’t break through with a run in the next three innings when one would have handed it victory. When, after two scoreless innings, the Mudcats’ third reliever, Anthony Rogers (1-0) sagged at the start of the 13th after batting for himself and reaching base on a bad-hop infield hit in the 12th, the challenge was significantly greater, but, it turned out, not too great.
Statistically, each team produced 11 hits, but Chillicothe’s attack was supplemented by a dozen bases on balls and two hit batsmen. Fish flingers walked only six batters and hit another in the 13 innings of play, registering 15 strikeouts.
Individually, Ray and late-entry Eickhoff shared the Chillicothe offensive limelight with Merritt.
Right fielder Ray finished two for four, but walked three times, drove in three runs, scored twice, and swiped three bases. His batting average for the season climbed to .368 and his on-base percentage to a team-leading .538.
Despite sitting in the dugout for the first seven innings, Eickhoff still reached base every time in four plate appearances via two singles and two walks, leaving him with a team-best .416 batting average on the young season. The team’s season leader in runs batted in with seven, he scored three runs.
Merritt matched Ray’s three RBI in the contest while getting two hits.
For the Renegades, Myles Ivory drove in four runs and Dede Cole three hits. The loss went to Leeper.
Despite playing 13 innings, each club was charged with only two errors.