(Story updated Sunday, July 21) Continuing their stellar success in 2019 road games, the Mudcats overcame a 4-0 deficit after five innings to out-gun the host Clarinda (Iowa) A's 13-8 July 19. Paired with two Friday losses by pursuer Sedalia and Chillicothe's subsequent win at St. Joseph the next night, the Mudcats finished second in MINK League North regular-season standings
CLARINDA, Iowa — Although it was dicey several times, the 2019 Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats reached the brink of a second-place finish in MINK League college-level baseball’s North Division regular-season standings Friday (July 19).
The Mudcats capitalized on two losses the same evening by their pursuer for second – the Sedalia Bombers – with a 13-8 come-from-behind triumph over the host Clarinda A’s.
Trailing 4-0 after five innings, the Fish swam against the current, scoring five times in the top of the sixth to go in front, then answering a seventh-inning grand slam by the A’s’ Joe Kelleher with Hunter Johnson’s 2-outs, 2-runs single in the top of the eighth before posting four insurance runs on a Blaine Ray solo homer and Logan Eickhoff’s 3-runs double in the ninth.
When reliever Jack McNellis, who rescued them from a tight, 1-out spot in the bottom of the eighth when it still was a 1-run game, tossed a 1-2-3 ninth, the Mudcats were victorious.
With that most-desirable combination of Friday results, Chillicothe (24-15, 22-14 MINK) carved its “magic number” for mathematically second place in the final regular-season North standings to one (one Mudcats win or Sedalia loss). It finished the job the following night with its 9-7 triumph over division leader St. Joseph.
As a result, the Mudcats will host the defending league-champion Bombers in the first-round North Division playoff game tonight (see central story on this page).
That the Mudcats managed to subdue the struggling, pitching-worn Iowa club was not surprising nor was the fact that they did it after trailing. A healthy portion of their 2019 victories have seen them trailing in the game – often in the latter innings.
Least unexpected, though, probably was that the Mudcats prevailed far away from (with apologies to late composer Stephen Foster) their “old Chillicothe home”.
Through five innings, the contest at Clarinda seemed headed in both a frustrating and costly direction.
Even with Sedalia’s loss in the first game of its doubleheader at St. Joseph in the books as the Mudcats’ game was in its early innings, Chillicothe had trouble finding a spark.
After having lost at home to St. Joseph the night before in a game in which they left the bases loaded four times in the last five frames, the Mudcats repeated that in the opening segment Friday. They then committed two errors in the bottom of the first to essentially hand the A’s a 2-0 lead.
Things took a painful turn for a key Chillicothe player in the bottom of the second.
Catcher Nolan Metcalf – the MINK League leader offensively in doubles and extra-base hits and among the league leaders in total hits, as well as the team’s leader in runs batted in as its regular cleanup batter and with over 50 hits on the season – absorbed a fouled pitch to his groin, leaving him severely in pain.
After several minutes, he finally indicated he felt well enough to continue. However, after finishing the bottom of the second, he was hit (in a different place) by a pitch as a batter in the third and, after being on the basepaths for a bit before that half-inning ended, he was removed from the game.
Fortunately for Metcalf and the team, head coach Caleb Bounds confirmed to the C-T overnight that the University of Kansas junior-to-be from Granger, Ind., was feeling significantly better and seemingly had escaped serious injury.
Without Metcalf’s potent bat in the heart of their lineup for the remaining 6-plus innings, the Mudcats’ prospects for generating another of their comeback wins undoubtedly were lessened, but ultimately proved not to have been erased.
With Clarinda having tacked on single runs – but missing a chance for more – in its third and fifth innings, Chillicothe faced a 4-runs deficit as it came to bat against A’s starting pitcher Casey Candiotti, a son of long-time major leagues pitcher Tom Candiotti, in the sixth.
By the time the Mudcats picked up their gloves and returned to the diamond for defensive play, they owned the lead.
The torch lit by a leadoff double by none other than the league’s leading hitter, Eickhoff, they scratched and clawed their way to a handful of runs. The key blow was a 2-runs, 2-outs double down the left-field line that tied the game by Dom Trevino, who had not started the game, but entered defensively in the bottom of the fourth. Trevino (Edmond, Okla.) then dashed home on a pop-fly double down the right-field line by recently-added Marty Lenhart, who went three for six with two doubles out of the leadoff spot.
Having seized the lead in the sixth, Chillicothe tacked on a pair of runs in the top of the seventh. After his foul popup was dropped, Eickhoff reached on a wild pitch on his swinging third strike. On a hit-and-run, he zipped to third on Johnson’s soft single to right.
With two out, Marcus Gonzalez lifted a high popup to shallow right-center field that proved to be perfectly placed. Not only did it fall uncaught between several fielders as Eickhoff crossed the plate, but – with Johnson off from first with contact, due to there being two outs – by the time one of those pursuing defenders recovered the ball, Johnson was being waved home, too. The hurried throw was late and Chillicothe had upped its edge to 7-4 without having a hard-hit ball in the inning.
With the 3-runs advantage, Bounds opted to change relief pitchers, even though righthander Chandler Griggs had thrown 1-2/3 frames of 1-hit, 0-runs, 3-strikeouts ball after taking over from starter Brandan Van Buren.
Inserted on the hill was lefthander Kale Harris, who immediately caught a break when center fielder Trevino made a diving catch to rob the first A’s batter of the seventh of an extra-base hit.
Harris’ luck didn’t hold, however, as, after Clarinda loaded the bases with a long double, a walk, and a hit batsman, Joe Kelleher ripped a grand slam over the Merl Eberly Field fence in left field with two outs. Just like that, Chillicothe was behind again, albeit by only a run, a margin which – considering Clarinda’s season-long pitching struggles – didn’t seem intimidating.
Sure enough, a leadoff walk to Trevino, who doubled and walked twice in three plate appearances after his in-game entrance and scored each time and Lenhart’s ground-ball double over the third-base bag put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position with one down in the Mudcats’ eighth. A walk to Tate Wargo then loaded the bases.
With Eickhoff seemingly the perfect batter for the visitors to have standing in. the A’s instead got a huge out when he popped up to second. However, their relief was short-lived as Johnson, who replaced Metcalf in the cleanup spot and subsequently went two for four with three runs batted in, spanked a line-drive hit over the shortstop’s head. Two runs scored and Chillicothe once more led, 9-8.
When Harris quickly got in hot water in the bottom of the eighth, Bounds called for closer McNellis. Entering with the potential tying run at second and lead run at the dish, the husky righthander struck out the next two Clarinda batters to strand the inherited runner. He’d then, after getting extra cushion to work with in the top of the ninth, fan the first two A’s in the bottom of the ninth before fielding a tap back to the mound to end the game.
Not only was McNellis superb in retiring all five batters he faced, but he also got the rare opportunity to bat in the top of the ninth and contributed to the 4-runs uprising.
After the first Chillicothe batter was retired by Clarinda reliever Spencer Davidson, who had entered at the start of the seventh and already had surrendered four runs, Ray poled his second home run of the summer over the fence in left to double the lead to two, 10-8.
Trevino then walked, bringing McNellis to the batter’s box for one of the handful of at-bats by a Mudcats pitcher this year. At the same time McNellis was brought in to pitch, Bounds had removed Eickhoff from the designated hitter’s role and put him in as catcher. Chet Merritt – who had come to the team this summer with the knowledge he could be an emergency catcher, if needed – had been shifted from his starting position at first base to behind the plate when Metcalf exited. Johnson played an inning at first in Merritt’s stead, then shifted across the diamond to third when Trevino entered in the outfield in the fourth with Ray switching from the garden to first base. When Eickhoff came in to catch in the eighth, Merritt went back to first and Ray to the outfield with Brandan Settles leaving and McNellis taking his No. 9 spot in the batting order.
When Davidson fell behind him on the count, the Chillicothe pitcher was allowed by his coach to swing away and bounced a hit up the middle into center field. After a second out was recorded and Wargo again drew a walk to load the bases for Eickhoff, Chillicothe’s best hitter didn’t squander his second chance.
He pulled a hard shot over the base at third and down the left-field line. By the time the ball came back in, all three runners had scampered across the plate and the Mudcats – with Sedalia’s second loss of the night already in the books – had maxed out their potential for the evening.
Statistically Friday, the Mudcats out-hit their hosts 17–9, including five doubles and Ray’s “tater” among the 17 safeties. Eickhoff and Lenhart had three hits each with Settles, Johnson, and Gonzalez adding two apiece. Johnson, who –after a slow start following his mid-June arrival – hss his batting average over .300 now, joined Eickhoff in driving in three runs and Trevino had a pair of RBI. Before leaving the game, Metcalf was one for one plus the plunking and now has 55 hits on the year, ninth-most in Mudcats single-season annals.
The three more hits by Eickhoff lifted his league-best total to 64, seventh-most in a season in Mudcats history.
With at least three games remaining and, potentially, as many as seven, the La Vista, Neb., resident is six hits shy of catching 2011 outfielder Cory Ford for second-most in team history behind late all-time leader Steve Martin’s 76 in 2003. Ford played in all 51 games in 2011, Martin in 44 of the ’03 team’s 48. Eickhoff has missed only one of this year’s 39 games to date (through Friday).