Relief hurler Jack Albright (Overland Park, Kan.) flings five shutout innings for Fish, gets win when Chillicothe scores three 2-outs, 2-strikes runs in the top of the ninth against MINK League foe Joplin June 13
JOPLIN, Mo. — The Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats’ college-level baseball team has made coming from behind a habit early in its 2019 campaign, including twice posting walk-off home wins. Not until Thursday (June 13) night’s 9-7 triumph in the “rubber” game of their 3-games road series with the Joplin Outlaws had they cut it this close, though.
Having trailed 7-3 after three innings, but only 7-6 since the top of the fourth, it appeared Chillicothe was going to succumb to the Joplin Outlaws and a trio of relief pitchers when, with two outs and the potential tying run at third base after two Tate Wargo steals, Blaine Ray faced an 0-2 count in the ninth.
However, after the next delivery to Ray missed the strike zone while Nolan Metcalf, who had been intentionally walked to get to Ray, stole second base, the paradigm of the situation shifted. Now relief pitcher Austin Neal faced the pressure of not only not preserving the tie, but surrendering the lead, if the Chillicothe outfielder could solve him for a basehit to the outfield.
On the next pitch, neither got exactly what he wanted nor what he did not seek.
Ray pulled a ground ball well-placed between the third baseman and shortstop. Although the shortstop got to it in the hole, because Metcalf had been allowed to swipe second uncontested a pitch earlier, he had no option to try to make a spectacular play with a throw back to second for a possible forceout. As it was, even though he got a glove on it, he had no play anywhere as Wargo darted home and Metcalf aggressively moved to third while Ray raced across the bag at first with a score-squaring RBI single.
Metcalf’s advance proved critical, since it again left Mudcats on the corner bases, prompting Joplin to not contest Ray’s steal of second either. That set up another Fish outfielder, Jack Grace, with a 2-strikes chance to give Chillicothe the lead. He seized it with a single that plated both runners and pushed the Mudcats in front for the first time since the first inning when they’d led 1-0 on Metcalf’s RBI single.
Reclaiming the upper hand and needing only three more outs, second-year Chillicothe head coach Caleb Bounds faced a decision – stick with righthanded reliever Jack Albright (1-0), who’d already provided four superlative innings of 1-hit, scoreless work, or not risk pushing him further and hand the ball over to someone fresh to try to save the MINK League contest.
Bounds, the Mudcats’ all-time leader in pitching wins with 13 in 3-plus seasons with the club, opted to stay the course with Albright. The suburban Kansas Citian proved him right.
He caught a pinch-hitter looking at strike three, then induced a popup to shortstop Wargo in short left-center field. Following a single which put the potential tying run in the batter’s box, Bounds’ faith in his hurler again didn’t waver.
Sticking with Albright, he was rewarded when a 1-0 pitch was popped in the air in foul territory near the first-base dugout where Bounds stood. First baseman Chet Merritt moved over and gloved it and, for a fourth time already this summer, the Fish (7-3, 7-3 MINK) had hooked a victory in a game they once had trailed. It was the third time they’d scored the winning run in their last at-bat and the fifth time they’d erased a lead (they overcame a 6-1 deficit at St. Joseph in their season opener to tie the game in the eighth before losing in the bottom of the ninth).
The triumph was the Mudcats’ third in four games in their current stretch of eight-straight away games in a 9-nights period. Ahead is a 3-games series at Springfield against the Ozark Generals, beginning with a 5 p.m. doubleheader at Meador Park Stadium Friday (June 14). After meeting the General again Saturday at 6, the Chillicothe team will return home for an “off” day Sunday before capping the string of road contests with a visit to Sedalia Monday.
Prior to the Mudcats’ final-inning, final-out uprising Thursday, it appeared the 3-runs innings Joplin had tagged Chillicothe starting pitcher Scott Duensing for in the second and third were going to stand up for a host’s win.
However, the damage the Mudcats did against Outlaws starting hurler Preston Rosales in the third and fourth kept them within striking distance and eventually they pounced.
Chillicothe’s pair of third-inning runs scored on one Metcalf swing. Following Logan Eickhoff’s 2-outs, none-on single, the University of Kansas right-handed hitter powered a 2-0 delivery over the fence to cut the Joplin lead to 4-3.
After the southwest Missouri club countered with three in its half of the third to go up 7-3, the Mudcats responded similarly.
Marco Gonzalez laced a 1-out triple and cruised home on Merritt’s single. Walks to Brandan Settles and Wargo followed, putting Rosales under the gun. Given a chance to work out of the bases-full jam, he couldn’t – hitting Trevino with a pitch to force in a fifth Chillicothe run before Eickhoff lifted a deep fly ball to center field that scored Settles.
With the tying run at third, Joplin summoned a new pitcher, Nozomu Yamauchi, who solved the Metcalf riddle by getting an inning-ending fly out to right field.
Yamauchi went on to post 3-1/3 scoreless and hitless innings, fanning five and walking only one before he was lifted prior to the Chillicothe half of the eighth. Although Gavin Kinney came on and worked a relatively-easy eighth, Joplin head coach Danny Weaver and pitching coach Jason Immekus went the opposite route of Bounds, and brought in a new hurler for the ninth.
Statistically, with their last-inning push, the Mudcats ended up out-hitting the Outlaws 11-10 and won despite making four errors to Joplin’s none.
Individually, Albright was the bright light of the night. He ended up posting five scoreless frames, surrendering only two hits with no bases on balls or hit batters. He struck out four and lowered his season earned run average (through three outings) to a sharp 1.00.
Offensively, Gonzalez went three for five, making him five for nine for the series and raising his batting average to a team-leading .421. With a 2-for-4 night with three runs driven in, Metcalf hiked his RBI total to 13, passing Gonzalez for the team lead. All told, eight Mudcats had hits and six drove in at least one run.
Additionally, the Fish swiped five more bases – four in the last inning – in six attempts, making them 31 of 36 through only 10 games. Wargo has stolen 10 times without being caught.