Fish will welcome defending MINK League champion Sedalia Bombers July 23 for single-elimination, first-round league playoffs game. Game time will be 7:05 p.m. Lefty Duensing slated to start on hill for Chillicothe
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — The second-most-successful (by winning percentage) regular season of MINK League college-level summer baseball by the Chillicothe Mudcats in the past decade now “in the books,” this summer’s squad will begin the organization’s first appearance in league playoffs competition since 2010 Tuesday night (July 23), weather and field conditions permitting.
The 2019 Fish (25-15) will host the defending MINK League champion Sedalia Bombers (20-16) in a game slated for a 7:05 p.m. start on “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium’s “Chuck” Haney Field. Chillicothe head coach Caleb Bounds has informed the C-T he plans to send lefthanded pitcher Scott Duensing (2-0) to the hill to start the club’s initial do-or-die contest.
“I’m very excited to be (in) the playoffs this year,” the Mudcats’ second-year head coach told the C-T recently. “… I know the guys are very excited to play and are hoping they can bring a championship to the town.”
Admission prices will be the same as for Mudcats regular-season games – $5 for adults, a mere $1 for anyone college age or younger, and $3 for senior citizens age 55 years and older, Chillicothe team officials report.
Tickets issued to business sponsors and others for regular-season games will not be accepted. All fans will need to pay for admission to any postseason games the team might host. A maximum of three home games is possible.
As would be expected, concessions and refreshments will be available at the stadium, although the selection might be more limited than during the regular seasno. The team’s “The Bait Shop” souvenir/memorabilia stand also will be in operation.
Playing at home, due to finishing second to St. Joseph in the league’s North Division standings with a league mark of 23-14 (its final scheduled game was rained out at St. Joseph Sunday), Chillicothe will square off with third-place finisher Sedalia, which finished 20-16 after its rescheduled last two loop contests Monday at Springfield against Ozark were rained out.
While the Mudcats finished ahead of the Bombers in the division standings, tonight’s visitors won four of the two combatants’ six regular-season contests against each other, including sweeping all three on Haney Field.
Sedalia claimed the first meeting in Chillicothe 5-4, rallying in the ninth inning on June 24 to capture a game which began on June 5, but was suspended when rain arrived during the second inning.
On July 6, after the Mudcats had rallied to win two meetings with the Bombers in Pettis County, the defending league champs took another tight decision here, 8-6. Finally, only last week, with the Fish struggling to fend off Sedalia for second place, the visitors prevailed at Shaffer Park Stadium a third time, 7-3.
Chillicothe’s inability to ground the Bombers at home was part of a larger pattern which doesn’t auger well for tonight’s game. In part because of the three blanks against Sedalia, the Mudcats produced only a 9-11 record in games on Haney Field this summer, the second year in a row and only third time in the club’s history it has had a losing regular-season mark at home. The only way the 2019 Fish, who – by contrast – were a superb 15-4 in games outside of Chillicothe this season, can finish with a winning home ledger is by claiming the league championship this week.
“We are hoping to finish the season strong,” promises Bounds.
In terms of personnel who might play key roles in tonight’s contest, in addition to Duensing – who Sedalia has not seen before, the Mudcats will seek to continue to get the exceptional offense they have from versatile Logan Eickhoff, the league’s batting champion and hits leader, and Nolan Metcalf, whose 15 doubles led all MINK players and whose 21 extra-base hits shared top billing with Domonique Hernandez of Nevada. He was fourth in the league in total hits and shared the team lead in home runs with five, while leading in runs batted in with 31.
While Eickhoff tagged the Bombers for an even .400 batting average during the regular season – 11 points lower than his overall average, Metcalf was largely silenced by Sedalia hurlers, hitting only .211.
While they form, in the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in the Chillicothe batting order, one of the loop’s best back-to-back tandems of heavy hitters, they’ll likely need others to chip in for the team to survive and advance each of the next two nights.
Getting batters aboard and then running the bases very aggressively has been an indispensable hallmark of the team’s most-successful times. Various Mudcats have had strong stretches swinging the bat, but also have had slumps, leading to some sporadic scoring in a couple of stretches this season.
Although Bounds has regularly utilized all of his outfielders through the season, speedy Brandan Settles has been at his best against Sedalia, going four for 10 (.400) and, also drawing four walks, posting a team-high .671 on-base percentage against tonight’s opponent.
As a team, the Mudcats have batted only .232 against Sedalia with only 12 extra-base hits in six games.
From the Bombers’ perspective, it posted a composite .278 batting average in winning four of the six clashes with the Fish. Individually, whereas only Eickhoff and Settles hit .300 or higher for Chillicothe against Sedalia, eight players expected to be available to Bombers head coach Craig McAndrews tonight, were at or above that level when facing the Mudcats.
Most potent for Sedalia was infielder Baxter Mays, who hit .417 while getting into all six games. 2018 Mudcat Cole Taylor, a corner infielder/DH, hit .400 against his old team after joining the Bombers at midseason. Outfielder A.J. Gardner, likely the team’s best player overall, had a half-dozen extra-base hits, including three home runs, and seven runs batted in off Mudcats pitchers in the six games, and third baseman Jake Lufft drove home eight while raking three doubles and a homer in five games. Each of the last two batted .333.
While Chillicothe has no way of knowing who McAndrews might use as his starting pitcher this evening – most effective against them in a start during the regular season was lefty Elijah Richeson, who threw four innings of 3-hits, scoreless ball in his lone outing, it would seem like a safe bet that, some time during the game, they’ll see reliever Cole Young.
A lefthander from Salisbury in neighboring Chariton County, Young worked in four of the six regular-season contests and threw 6-1/3 innings without surrendering an earned run. All told, he stifled the Mudcats on one solitary hit and one unearned run while facing 29 batters.
Should Chillicothe flip the script on Sedalia and actually win at home Tuesday, it would move on to face the MINK’s regular-season “champion” St. Joseph on the road Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The Mustangs, 35-10 overall and 29-8 in league action during the regular-season, won three of the five games against the Mudcats.
Tuesday’s action in Chillicothe and in the South Division’s playoffs opener between the second- and third-place squads (Joplin hosting either Jefferson City or Nevada) commences a quick, 3-tiered league postseason.
The winners of the first-round games earn the right to visit their respective division’s first-place finisher Wednesday night. The victors in Wednesday’s “division championship,” second-round action advance to a best-of-3-games league championship series, slated for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
The LCS participant which posted the best regular-season record in league play will have the option to either host game one and play all remaining games on the road or vice versa – open on the road and have game No. 2 and, if the first two are split, the decisive game No. 3 at home.
Doug Doughty, Chillicothe general manager, tells the C-T the Mudcats, if they advance that far and have the right to choose, will opt to host the second and third games, as needed.
All game days/dates cited in the story are weather and field conditions contingent, of course. Unstated by league officials is what happens to the overall schedule if one division has its game on a particular night postponed, due to the weather, while the opposite division's game is played.