Chillicothe salvages nightcap of Thursday, June 20, MINK League baseball twinbill 2-0 after late, 4-3 loss in opener
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — One week after being cuffed for eight hits and seven runs – four earned – in only four innings in a start against the Joplin Outlaws at Joplin’s Joe Becker Stadium, Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats lefthanded starting pitcher Scott Duensing rematched with the team that hails from the southwest Missouri city where he plays collegiately for Missouri Southern State, tasked not only with improving his fortunes against the same foe, but also with helping his summer team halt its first losing streak.
He filled both bills well.
Thursday night (June 20), in the nightcap of a rain-forced home MINK League doubleheader on “Chuck” Haney Field at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium, the Overland Park, Kan., resident throttled the Outlaws on two singles and two baserunners the first five innings, then battled his way scorelessly through fatigue-influenced sixth-inning difficulty to gain credit for the victory as the Mudcats (10-7, 10-7 MINK) gained a split of the twinbill with a 2-0 verdict that halted a 3-games skid.
Joplin (8-11, 3-10 MINK) had pulled out a comeback 4-3 win in Thursday’s opener with a 2-outs, 2-runs single in the sixth inning, ratcheting up the pressure on Duensing (1-0) as he strode to the hill for game two.
“Duensing threw awesome,” Caleb Bounds, Chillicothe head coach, praised in a post-game visit with the C-T.
“It was much better than his last outing against them. it was great to see him make the adjustment to what they did to him last game.”
When the lefthander threw the last pitch of his outing, he faced a no-decision, since Joplin righthander Damian Acosta had matched him, bagel for bagel. However, Acosta was lifted after five innings and his replacement, Preston Rosales, proved a bit too wild for his own good or his team’s.
First facing Nolan Metcalf, Chillicothe’s most-consistent hitter thus far this season and, by far, its hottest on the mild evening, the new Outlaws hurler quickly surrendered a basehit, a line drive single lashed to left for the University of Kansas player’s third hit in three at-bats in game two and his sixth in seven at-bats in the doubleheader.
With pinch-runner Marcus Gonzalez sent in to try to convert Metcalf’s hit into the game’s first run, Bounds opted to play the bunting game, rather than have the speedy Gonzalez steal his way into scoring position. Hunter Johnson successfully sacrificed the potential go-ahead run to second, where he remained while Rosales walked Brady Welch on five pitches.
Facing pinch-hitter Dom Trevino, a strike-1 pitch sailed too far inside and clipped the batter on the back of the left shoulder, loading the bases with one out. The next pitch also proved way off target to Kale Ficken, thudding into the middle of his back as he tried to spin away. Two hit batters in two pitchers had pushed the game’s first run across the plate at last.
“We’ll take a run however we can get it,” Bounds said with a grin.
Another pinch-hitter, Blaine Ray, padded the cushion a bit with a fly ball to left field which was plenty deep enough for Welch to tag and score a second Chillicothe run of the game – and the night – after the catch.
That left it to righthanded closer Jack McNellis, owner of the only previous 2019 Mudcats save, to preserve Duensing’s and the team’s triumph. He handled the assignment successfully, although Joplin did get a ground-ball single with two outs to put the potential tying run in the batter’s box. McNellis notched his second save with a 3-pitches strikeout of Outlaws last hope Ryan Lorber and the short losing streak was history.
Getting the second-game “W” was important for the Fish after they saw looming victory in the opener slip through their fins.
With both starting pitchers also working quite effectively, game one stood 3-2 in the Mudcats’ favor going to the sixth inning when an ill-advised choice by Chillicothe hurler Tyler Venditti (1-2) create an opening and Joplin’s David Butterfield delivered a clutch blow.
Having steadied from a very rocky beginning that saw the game’s first batter rip him for a triple and four of the first five opposing batters reach safely as the Outlaws staked out a 2-0 lead, Venditti entered the top of the sixth having retired 14 of the last 15 Joplin batters and nursing a lead provided by single runs in the Chillicothe halves of the first, second, and fourth innings.
However, following a leadoff single by Joplin – a blow that likely would have been a double, except for batter John Prudhom face-planting as he rounded first base, Venditti refused to accept the out the Outlaws offered on a high-bouncing bunt by cleanup batter Donovan Sutti. Instead of throwing to first for the sure out, the Chillicothe hurler whirled and threw to second too late to get Prudhom, putting him in a 2-on, none-out jam.
He battled to escape, getting a fly ball to center field that advanced the potential tying run to third base and then a popup to short left field that kept men at first and third. However, one pitch after the Mudcats’ defense opted to concede a steal of second by the trail runner, rather than try to get the would-be inning-ending out there at the risk of a double-steal attempt, Butterfield sent a high strike to right-center field on a frozen rope. The single scored the tying and lead runs without a play.
Still facing that 4-3 deficit in the bottom of the seventh and last inning, Chillicothe seemed about to unfurl another comeback, walk-off win as, with one out, Logan Eickhoff singled and Metcalf skied a twisting, opposite-field double just beyond the retreating right fielder’s reach. Although, when the ball fell safely near the right-field wall, Eickhoff – who had needed to hold up short of second base, in case the ball was caught – crashed into the Joplin shortstop a step or two past second, the home plate umpire reasonably ruled that, while the shortstop obstructed the Mudcat, it did not warrant Eickhoff being awarded home plate, particularly since he made no attempt to score.
Still, the Mudcats now had the tying run 90 feet from home and the possible game-winner a base behind him with only one out. The situation then became the bases full with one out as Joplin manager Danny Weaver ordered an intentional walk of Ray to create a force play at all bases and enhance the chances of a game-saving double play.
Sticking with his starting pitcher, Gavin Kinney, despite the two hits which preceded the free pass, Weaver saw his hurler fall behind Chillicothe’s Chet Merritt 2-1 and then 3-1. If the next pitch missed the strike zone, the game would be all square at 4-4; if Merritt put in play where an Outlaw couldn’t catch it, the game might be over.
Instead, Merritt went after the next, high offering and popped up on the infield for out No. 2. Then, on a 2-2 pitch, Jack Grace tapped about back toward the hill about 35 feet. Kinney came forward and fielded it cleanly, then made a rather soft toss toward first base. Less than a half-step before Grace’s foot thudded into the bag, the ball disappeared into the first baseman’s mitt for the game-winning out for Joplin.
Leaving the bases loaded was a fitting epitaph for the game from Chillicothe’s perspective. Out-hitting the Outlaws 9-5 and also graced with four Joplin errors, four walks, and a hit batsman, the Mudcats suffered the loss in large part because they left 10 men on in only seven innings. By contrast, the visitors won with a mere five hits, one walk, one hit batter, and no Fish foul-ups.
Chillicothe’s runs had scored on Ray’s 2-outs single in the first, a double-steal executed by Gonzalez from first base and Johnson from third in the second inning, and Trevino’s scoring fly to right field in the fourth.
Statistically on the night, Metcalf’s 5-of-6 showing spiked his already-outstanding batting average to .397 and Eickhoff’s 3-for-7 evening that pushed his team-best mark up to .408. In addition, Johnson was two for two in the opener and two for four on the night.
The rest of the squad, however, combined for only three hits total, continuing a recent downturn from an attack which had fueled the team’s 9-4 start to the season.
Observed Bounds, “We go on that road trip (to Nevada, Joplin, Ozark, and Sedalia last week) and we start playing in a little bit smaller parks and then you come home and you’re back to the bigger park and now some of those fly balls that were home runs now are being routine fly outs. … We’re just going to have to change our approach a little bit and make sure we keep (our swings) short and simple.”
Thankfully, the mini-slump (five runs on 20 hits in 23 innings) the offense collectively has experienced since getting back to Haney Field/Shaffer Park Stadium has coincided with an uptick in the Mudcats’ pitchers’ performances (nine runs on 19 hits in 23 innings), the coach notes.
“It’s huge, whenever you get two 7-innings games where you only have to use three pitchers,” Bounds confirmed the better position his team now is in heading into Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. non-league home game against the Peak Performers from Des Moines, Iowa, and then Sunday’s 6 p.m. road game at MINK League North Division-leading St. Joseph.
“… It was a great job by the pitching staff.”
The coach said he expects to use righthander Dylan Govin (0-0), who is available only on weekends, as Saturday’s starting pitcher with righty Brock Pettit (1-0) starting at St. Joseph.