With 8-4 victory at Clarinda, Iowa, Tuesday (June 25, 2019), the Mudcats – currently holding the third and final playoffs-qualifying position in the MINK League's North Division – moved six full games ahead of the fourth-place A's.
CLARINDA, Iowa — The Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats college-level summer base ball team became the first MINK League club to reach the midpoint of its 2019 league schedule Tuesday night. In the process, too much generosity on the basepaths and in the field by the host Clarinda A’s allowed them to reach that milepost with a victory which significantly boosted the likelihood of the Mudcats’ appearing in league postseason play for the first time since 2011.
Snapping a 2-2 tie with three unearned runs in the top of the fifth inning, Chillicothe eventually put an 8-4 victory over the Iowans in the books, lifting the Mudcats’ overall and league records to 11-8 and plummeting the A’s to marks of 3-12 in the loop and 6-12 overall.
While Clarinda still is four games away from hitting the halfway point of its MINK campaign, the 6-games lead third-place Chillicothe now owns over it in the North Division puts the Mudcats in a commanding position to finish no worse than third in the final division standings. Had the A’s picked up a win Tuesday, the gap between the Fish and A’s would have been only four games with plenty of games remaining for that margin to shrink.
Instead, by notching only their second triumph in the last six outings, the Mudcats reached their 2-days “All-Star break” with a positive feeling and their widest lead in the standings over Clarinda to date.
Still foremost in the Chillicothe college-level baseball team’s mind is not just qualifying for the league playoffs – the top three teams in each division’s regular-season-ending standings advance to a 3-tiers playoffs to decide the league champion, but trying to be the North’s first-place team entering the playoffs. Regular-season division champs have to win only one playoff game – at home – to qualify for the best-of-3 league championship series; the second- and third-place teams have to win two do-or-die playoff contests to reach the LCS.
When the Mudcats come off their “All-Star break,” they’ll visit Granger, Iowa, a northern suburb of Des Moines, Iowa, Friday for what will be their first non-league game (they’ve had two rained out previously).
The Fish then will swim back into MINK League waters Saturday night at nemesis Sedalia, a location where they’ve lost nine times in a row since the opening game of their 2016 season. Righthander Dylan Govin, who threw 3-1/3 hitless, scoreless innings in his only prior outing this summer way back on June 8, is considered the likely starting pitcher for the Sedalia game. Govin is available only on weekends while attending summer school in Illinois.
That Tuesday’s game on Merl Eberly FIeld at Clarinda Municipal Stadium was even played was a bit of a victory for both teams, considering the miserable, rain-ruled weather in the southwestern Iowa community the first four weeks of the 2019 season.
The game’s dominant theme – A’s mistakes – was set almost immediately.
A 1-out error by the home team in the top of the first inning was followed by singles from Chillicothe’s two best hitters – Logan Eickhoff and Nolan Metcalf – to establish a 1-0 lead.
In the home half of the first Mudcats starting and winning pitcher Cristhian Cardona (1-1) retired only one batter, but ended up facing only four and sustaining no damage.
The big righthander from Florida was touched for a leadoff single, but catcher Metcalf cut that man down trying to steal second for the first out. A triple by Donovan Ditto and a walk followed before Cardona got the cleanup batter to pop up to second baseman Marcus Gonzalez, giving the Mudcats hurler a chance to escape unscathed, if he could retire the next batter.
As it turned out, he didn’t, because, again thanks to Metcalf, he didn’t need to. The receiver managed to keep an errant pitch close enough to home plate that, with the runner from third trying to score once the delivery wasn’t cleanly caught, he could grab it and get back to home plate in time to tag the onrushing runner out to end the inning. Instead of being behind – perhaps by multiple runs, depending on what future batters might have done in what could have been a tie game with two runners in scoring position and only one out – the visitors hit their dugout still ahead, 1-0.
Even as Clarinda put single runs on the board in both the second and third frames for a 2-1 lead, it flubbed chances to do even more harm.
In the second, it stranded two baserunners after Bradley McClean’s game-tying, 1-out single.
In the third, after scoring the go-ahead run on Metcalf’s wild throw to third trying to catch another runner attempting to advance on a Cardona pitch that got away, a swing and miss on a 2-strikes pitch that again eluded Metcalf’s miss led to the inning’s second out, but not by the batter. Instead, a runner at third base initially started for home and Metcalf recovered the ball and, rather than throw to first to get the batter-runner headed there, got the runner headed home in a rundown. With a throw to third baseman Kole Ficken and a return peg to Metcalf, the lead runner was retired, keeping the score at 2-1, Clarinda. A groundout later, the inning was over.
Sparked by Metcalf’s heads-up play, the Mudcats raised their game, still aided by the A’s.
All-Star Metcalf led off the fourth with the second of his three hits, a double. He tagged and advanced to third on a fly out to right field, a smart play which paid nearly-instant dividends when a passed ball by the Clarinda catcher then let him scoring another unearned run.
Still tied at 2-2 after Cardona had a 1-2-3 bottom of the fourth, the Mudcats hit the bait hard with two outs and none on in the fifth.
Tate Wargo reached on an infield error and Dom Trevino singled to left. When the hit was booted in the outfield, both advanced an extra 90 feet to be in scoring position for Eickhoff. The versatile Nebraskan who attended and played for North Central Missouri College at Trenton last school year made both errors cost dearly, swatting a 2-runs single that gave Chillicothe back the lead, this time for keeps.
With Metcalf stepping into the batter’s box, the FIsh weren’t finished with the fifth. The righthanded-swinging Granger, Ind., resident pounded lefthanded A’s starting pitcher Dylan Hathcock’s pitch for a double that let Eickhoff come all the way home from first for a 5-2 Chillicothe advantage.
Although wobbly, Cardona managed to get through the 3-hits Clarinda fifth with only one run allowed, stranding two with an inning-ending strikeout – his fourth. That gave him enough innings worked on the night qualify for the winning decision, if the Mudcats maintained their lead.
They did, mostly thanks to righthanded reliever Brock Pettit, who originally had been ticketed to start Sunday’s rained-out game at St. Joseph.
Pettit took over on the hill at the start of the sixth and fanned the first two men he dueled on his way to retiring the side in order. After Blaine Ray’s 2-outs single scored Trevino in the top of the seventh and made it 6-3, Pettit limited the harm from a couple of errors behind him in the home half to one run.
His teammates then “apologized” for the miscues by fashioning another rally with two down and no one aboard. Brandan Settles drew a walk and sped to third on Wargo’s second single of the game. After the trail runner swiped second base without a throw, Trevino dumped a sinking, soft liner into shallow center field, sending both runners home for a 4-runs Mudcats margin.
With the extra elbow room, Pettit powered through the last two innings, allowing only one baserunner on a 2-outs hit in the eighth. When he struck out the last batter – the fifth whiff of his 4-innings save, the Illinoisan had retired eight of the last 10 A’s he faced and yielded only one unearned run on three hits and nary a walk.
Statistically, both teams produced double-digits hits – Chillicothe 12 and Clarinda 11 – and each had been charged with four defensive errors. Of Chillicothe’s eight runs, only two were earned which still was one more than what the Iowa club had.
Cardona got the win with one earned run (three total) allowed in his five innings. Having made some adjustments in sideline sessions with head coach Caleb Bounds and assistant coaches after a control-meltdown start at Sedalia last week, he limited his walks total to three Tuesday.
The Mudcats’ attack included three hits, including two doubles, and two runs driven in by Metcalf, who ended the night with a .390 batting average and team-high 16 RBI for the season.
Heading into his participation in the league’s All-Star Game at St. Joseph last night, where he also was the Mudcats’ rep in the Home Run Derby, his 30 total hits featured a team-most 13 for extra bases (11 doubles, two home runs). His slugging percentage of .610 easily led the Fish and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.039 (a rate of .800 is considered good and .900 very good) only slightly-outpaced Eickhoff’s .997.
With a 2-for-4 night and two RBI, Eickhoff elevated his team-topping batting average to .418 and on-base percentage to .473, highest among the Mudcats.
Trevino also was two for four at Clarinda, driving in two runs and scoring three, and Ray and Wargo had two hits apiece also.
Clarinda’s Ditto hated to see Cardona leave the mound, having ripped him for a single, double, and triple in three at-bats. Pettit quieted him, though, leaving the A’s infielder with a 3-for-5 night. Andrew Paulsey went three for four.