Texas righthander goes route with 2-hitter in 8-3 second-game victory of MINK League South Division leader Ozark after visiting Generals took opener 7-3. Split plus St. Joseph home win pushed Mudcats to 2-1/2 games behind St. Joe in the North Division standings
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Maintaining their season-long home-field ambivalence, the Chillicothe Mudcats didn’t come out of Friday night’s home doubleheader with the leaders of the MINK League’s South Division, the Ozark Generals, as well as they went in. Thanks to righthanded pitcher Tyler Ingram, their regression in the league’s North Division title chase was minimal.
For a second time, Ingram (Kempner, Texas) was outstanding in the nightcap of a home doubleheader in which the Fish had fallen in the opener, twirling a 110-pitches, complete-game 2-hitter in an 8-3 victory that virtually matched Ozark’s 7-3 triumph in game one.
By splitting the league pair while North Division leader St. Joseph was dispatching Joplin at home, the Mudcats slipped to 2-1/2 games behind St. Joe’s Mustangs in the North standings. With third-place Sedalia idle, the Chillicothe wash meant they remained two games in front of the Bombers. With just over a week remaining in the MINK League’s regular season, Chillicothe and St. Joseph already have playoff appearances clinched and Sedalia has a “magic number” of two for eliminating the last-place Clarinda (Iowa) A’s.
Chillicothe (22-12, 20-11 MINK) – only 7-7 on its home diamond this season – will try to help extinguish the faint, faint Clarinda hopes Saturday when it hosts the A’s (10-22, 8-22 MINK) on “Chuck” Haney Field at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium. If the Mudcats prevail in the 7:05 game, in which Mudcats head coach Caleb Bounds plans to send lefthander Brandon Van Buren (2-0) to the mound as the team’s starting pitcher, and Sedalia handles Ozark at home, the full trio of North Division playoffs qualifiers will be set. Only the order of finish will remain to be determined over the last nine days and nights of the season.
Ingram was nails in every inning of Friday's finale except the fourth, facing only one batter of the minimum in the other six frames.
The only harm done to him was inflicted flimsily by two bloop hits to shallow center field to start the inning and three walks and a hit batsman that followed later in the inning.
With the Mudcats’ 4-0 lead shaved to 4-3 by the soft scoring, Ingram and Chillicothe appeared to catch a potentially-game-altering break to end that segment.
Facing No. 9 batter Tanner Maskey with the bases full and a 1-run lead, Ingram saw the hitter swat a well-struck grounder through the middle of the diamond, a bit to the right side of second base. Mudcats second sacker Marcus Gonzalez dashed well to his right to spear the grounder on the backhand before – from almost directly behind the bag and about 10 feet away, shoveling a toss to shortstop Tate Wargo on the bag as the baserunner from first slid in. While many observers – naturally including the Generals – sensed the runner had arrived at the base before Wargo caught the throw, the field umpire – only about 15 feet from the action, made an “out” call that ended the inning with Chillicothe still up by one, rather than tied and still facing a bases-full situation.
The Mudcats, who had plated four runs – a couple unearned – off starting and losing pitcher Sam Tiller in the second inning, provided their hurler with a smidgen of extra elbow room in the bottom of the fourth.
Chet Merritt’s 1-out double to left-center field, where the center fielder just missed a diving catch attempt, a Hunter Johnson single to left, and a walk to Brandon Settles loaded the bases with one out. A wild pitch let Merritt cross the plate, but that was all the damage the home team could do at the time.
The Fish did keep adding on, though, the rest of the way. In the fifth, Nolan Metcalf-s double to left-center drove home Logan Eickhoff from second and, after a wild pitch, Blaine Ray hit a sacrifice fly to left. In the sixth, Eickhoff’s second hit was followed by three wild pitches that let him complete his tour of the bases.
Chillicothe’s big inning, as mentioned, was the second.
It started with a walk to Metcalf and a Ray single to right. With one out, the third baseman threw badly toward first base on Chet Merritt’s grounder, loading the bases for Johnson.
The Salem, Ore., infielder slashed a tailing grounder between the Ozark first baseman and the line, easily scoring Metcalf and Ray and sending Merritt to third. When the speedy Johnson tried to stretch the hit to a double, drawing a throw, the right fielder air-mailed his shortstop at the bag and the ball zipped into left field. Although Johnson hung on at second, the second errant peg of the inning by the Generals let Merritt saunter home for a 3-0 lead.
Following a groundout to second that advanced Johnson to third, the Ozark shortstop made his team’s third throwing error of the frame, allowing Wargo to reach and Johnson to score a fourth Mudcats run of the inning.
In game one, the Mudcats looked to be on track for another of their late-inning, comeback victories when they strung together a walk, a single, and consecutive run-scoring hits by middle-of-the-order mainstays Logan Eickhoff and Nolan Metcalf to tie the game 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning.
However, when an inning-ending double play short-circuited a 2-on, 1-out situation in that frame, some of the air went out of the home team and an early infield throwing error opened the gates for four unearned Ozark runs in to the top of the sixth to settle the issue.
The crucial misplay eventually led to a tiebreaking single to right field by No. 9 batter Tanner Maskey, a bases-filled hit batsman, and killer 2-outs, 2-runs single to left-center by Blake Vandiver before faltering starting pitcher Tyler Venditti finally was removed.
The South Division-leading Generals posted the first two runs of the opener on Kevin Granger’s 2-outs, 2-runs double in the third inning.
The Mudcats scored a hitless run in the bottom half on an extremely-rare play.
Dom Trevino walked with one out and stole second. After a strikeout and a walk to Chet Merritt, both runners attempted to steal. The Ozark catcher chose to throw to second and his peg had Merritt beaten, so he stopped and retreated toward first with the shortstop in pursuit while trying to keep an eye on Trevino going around third base.
When Trevino got within about 18 feet of first base, the shortstop decided to throw to the first baseman at the bag. As he cocked his arm to make that flip, Trevino accelerated toward home plate and beat the first sacker’s throw on a close play, technically stealing two bases himself on one play.
Ozark got that one back, however, the next inning with a leadoff double into the right-field corner by cleanup man Lucas Riddick and a 2-outs single to center from Ashton Smith.
Chillicothe’s tying flurry in the fifth began with a 1-out double inside the third-base bag by Merritt after Wargo had been picked off first following a leadoff walk. Eickhoff then short-hopped the wall in left to swap places with Merritt. Metcalf sizzled an opposite-field single to right on which Eickhoff scored the equalizer without a throw as the outfielder didn’t make a clean pickup in his haste.
An error on a ground ball put a second runner on base, but on a routine fly ball to medium-depth center field, Metcalf attempted to catch the center fielder, but instead was thrown out trying to advance to third on a relay by the shortstop.
Statistically in Friday’s divided twinbill, Chillicothe out-hit Ozark 15-8 and was aided by a half-dozen Generals errors, compared to only one Mudcats miscue.
While getting the win provided a sheen to Ingram’s outing, game one Chillicothe starter Tyler Venditti (1-4) wasn’t far off Ingram’s form.
Were it not for the untimely error in the top of the sixth, the Geneva, Ill., righthander would have completed at least six innings with only three runs – all earned, just like Ingram. Instead, when he couldn’t pitch around the flub and Bounds oddly opted to stay with him until four runs had scored before summoning top short reliever Jack McNellis, Venditti took another loss.
Offensively for the Mudcats on the evening, Metcalf’s composite 3-for-5 night included two runs batted in, two runs scored, and his league-leading 15 double, only two shy of the Mudcats’ single-season record. With family members on hand, Merritt added a 3-for-6 evening with three runs scored.
Eickhoff, already hitting over .400 starting the night, raised his MINK-best batting average to .410 with a 4-for-8 night. His 55 hits for the season are seven more than any other league player – Metcalf is second with 48, including a league-topping 19 extra-base hits – and eighth-most ever in a single season by a Mudcat.
The La Vista, Neb., product and sophomore-to-be at Trenton’s North Central Missouri College has hit in 12-straight games in which he has appeared and 20 of his last 21 and has 18 multi-hits games on the season – five such games short of the team record.