Shortstop's great, bases-loaded, 2-outs catch racing into short center field and role in two subsequent double plays led backing for hurler's gritty complege game in 3-1 triumph in twinbill finale against Ozark. Host Generals had stomped Fish 12-1 in opener of MINK League pair
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — In transferring from Joplin to Springfield Friday morning (June 14) for the 5 p.m. doubleheader starting their 3-games/2-days set with the Ozark Generals, the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats apparently either forgot to pack the bats with the hits in them or neglected to set the bat bag’s alarm clock.
Fortunately for the Fish, Brandan Van Buren remembered his pitching arm and shortstop Tate Wargo his glove.
After losing a walks-plagued first game of the twinbill 12-1, the Mudcats gained a split when Wargo’s clutch defense provided the key support for lefthander Van Buren’s gritty hurling in a 3-1 nightcap triumph.
Chillicothe’s college-level, summer baseball team thus again avoided suffering consecutive 2019 losses – they’ve followed each of their defeats to date with a victory – as they improved both their MINK League and overall records to 8-4 heading into Saturday’s 6 p.m. series finale with the Generals.
Van Buren (St. Charles, Ill.) scattered nine hits and three walks through the seven innings of game two, never retiring the side in order, but bailed out by two ground-ball double plays of which Wargo was a part, a caught-stealing that preceded the Generals’ only scoring of the game, and, most critically, a sensational catch of a pop fly to center field by a retreating Wargo with the bases full and two outs in the second inning.
Because of those key defensive plays and Van Buren’s other tough work in tight spots as he went the 7-innings distance, single runs in the first second, and sixth frames the Mudcats milked from their meager 5-hits attack were enough to get back on the winning track.
What proved to be the decisive run in the second game was an unearned run plated in the second segment because of the speed and daring of outfielder Blaine Ray, according to reports from the scene.
After Wargo’s game-opening walk was followed by his 11th stolen base of the season in 11 attempts and a wild pitch, Dom Trevino’s hit gave the Fish a 1-0 lead after one.
Ray then led off the second with a ground ball in the hole at shortstop. The long, strong throw from the shortstop looked like it would nip the Fish, but the first baseman failed to catch the peg for an error.
Ray soon stole second base, only to have to stay there as the two following batters were retired. Gambling, Ray perfectly timed losing pitcher Bryan Adames’ delivery of a pitch to Chet Merritt and swiped third without the catcher even making a throw.
After Merritt eventually battled back from a 1-2 count to earn a walk, it seemed Chillicothe still would need a 2-outs hit to get Ray home, but the Ottawa, Kan., resident decided to try an alternative route.
With lefty Adames’ back to him in the stretch position and with the hurler’s focus split between the batter and Merritt in front of him at first base, just before the Ozark hurler raised his front leg to deliver a 1-1 pitch, Ray began racing toward home plate on a steal attempt, perhaps hoping to influence a wild pitch as much as hoping for a successful theft. However, because the pitcher was working from the stretch position, even the premature break by Ray left him well short of home plate when the pitch sailed across the plate in the strike zone, where Wzrgo took it for strike two.
Seeing he’d be an easy out if he continued on home, Ray slammed on the brakes and retreated toward third base with the catcher in pursuit. A too-early flip to the third baseman caused another reversal toward home by the Mudcat. Another throw ahead of him to Adames covering the plate and another turnaround by Ray moved the rundown back toward third, where the catcher now was positioned. Being a pitcher, Adams understood he was unlikely to chase Ray down, so, after a short pursuit, he threw the ball toward third as Ray once more halted and switched directions toward home.
The Generals catcher, also figuring he was unlikely to chase Ray down once the Mudcat got going back toward home, overanxiously bobbled the pitcher’s flip as he tried to get ready to throw it toward the first baseman who now had rushed to cover home plate. That brief fumble gave Ray, reading the reactions of the fielders between himself and home plate, enough of a head start and a chance to get to near-full speed that the Mudcat sold out for trying to beat a throw to the plate.
As the throw arrived at the edge of the home plate circle of dirt, Ray dodged the first baseman’s lunging tag attempt and, with a head-first dive, touched home plate before being tagged. Against the odds of both the initial attempt and the ensuing rundown, Ray had stolen home successfully and Chillicothe led 2-0.
The score stayed there until the fifth, but only because of Wargo’s clutch and timely plays.
Ozark (5-5, 5-5 MINK) got a leadoff ground-rule double to deep right-center field to start its half of the second. A popup kept the runner there before a ground ball to third advanced him 90 feet. Following walks to the Nos. 8 and 9 men in the Generals’ lineup, Van Buren had to face leadoff man Harrison Stevens with the bases full.
The Ozark right fielder would stroke hits off Van Buren each of the next two times he would face him, but this time he lifted a pop fly into center field. With all of the runners going on contact with two outs, speedy center fielder Dom Trevino charged in, but was not going to get to the shallow ball in time for the catch. However, racing backward at top speed from his shortstop position, Wargo, with his back to the infield, lunged at the last moment to snare the ball, preventing at least two – and perhaps three – runs from crossing the plate.
The infielder from Benid, Ill., didn’t stop his clutch defensive work there.
Back-to-back 1-out singles by Ozark the next inning again had Chillicothe and Van Buren in some danger, but the lefty induced a ground ball Wargo scooted to and gloved. With a sharp, quick throw to second sacker Logan Eickhoff, Wargo initiated an inning-ending double play that, once more, kept it 2-0 game.
The following frame, a leadoff walk and a 1-out single had Generals at the corner bases with one out. Once again, Van Buren made a well-placed delivery that produced a ground ball, this time to Eickhoff. The versatile La Vista, Neb., resident, who caught the first game of the doubleheader and already has started games this summer at shortstop and third base and left field, as well, grabbed it cleanly, fed the ball to Wargo at second, and Wargo gunned a strike to Merritt at first for a second-straight inning-snuffing twin-killing.
Those Wargo-keyed denials meant that, when Ozark did nick Van Buren for a run in the bottom of the fifth on a single, a steal, a wild pitch, and Wesley Anderson’s fly ball, Chillicothe still had a lead. The Mudcats immediately counterbalanced that tally with back-to-back 1-out doubles by Nolan Metcalf and Jack Grace in the top of the sixth and Van Buren (1-0) made the margin stand up, pitching around 1-out baserunners in both the sixth and seventh.
The close Game 2 win juxtaposed the doubleheader opener, which Generals ace righthander Tyson Campbell dominated.
Coming off two previous strong starts, Campbell held the Mudcats hitless through the first three innings, striking out six in that time. By the time the Fish got their first hit on Eickhoff’s leadoff single in the fourth, Campbell was protecting a 6-0 lead and the game essentially was already decided.
Campbell (2-0) eventually went the distance, surrendering only a meaningless seventh-inning run on Brandan Settles’ RBI single that drove home Marcus Gonzalez, who had led off with a double. Campbell finished with 10 strikeouts, while walking only one and allowing five hits. He did hit two Mudcats in what ended as the Fish’s biggest loss of the season thus far. They lost 20-10 at Joplin earlier on the road trip.
On the flip side of the ledger, Chillicothe’s starting pitcher in the opener, Tyler Venditti (1-1), just couldn’t find any control. Although he allowed only four hits in 2-2/3 innings, he walked a half-dozen and threw five wild pitches. Charged with six runs – all earned, he departed, only to have lefthanded relievers Chase Wheeler and Kale Harris follow his lead.
After getting the last out of the third, Wheeler, from Carrollton, lasted only two-thirds of an inning, walking three and hitting one, along with giving up a hit. He was charged with two runs before Harris took over. Harris walked three more and gave up a hit and three unearned runs in 1-1/3 innings.
Ozark tacked on one last hit and scored an unearned run off the fourth Chillicothe pitcher of the game, Tyler Ingram, who threw the bottom of the sixth.
Statistically for the doubleheader, the Mudcats produced only a total of 10 hits and four runs, yet got out with a split.
Out-hit 16-10, they did get a combined 3-for-5 day from Trevino, but no other Fish had more than one hit.