REELING IN THE YEARS WITH THE CHILLICOTHE MUDCATS: 2012 club played, won most games ever; potent bats stoked '13 at record average, runs pace
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
While the Chillicothe Mudcats college-level baseball team have been consistent winners on the diamond, having only one losing season since their 2002 debut, the Grand River Entertainment-sponsored club enjoyed its on-field zenith from 2008 to 2013.
Four summers of 30 or more victories and an array of memorable and historic team and individual achievements produced a cumulative 180-120 ledger over that 6-years stretch, which was capped by 2013’s 33 wins, the most in any Mudcats season thus far.
The average of 30 wins per year and .600 overall winning percentage in that middle third of team history stand clearly superior to the not-inconsequential levels of success of those before and after.
With Mudcats operations interrupted this summer by complications from the COVID-19 pandemic, the “down time” provides an appropriate opportunity to reflect on the notable successes of the second-most senior member of the MINK League, which – like the Mudcats – is shuttered in 2020.
Today’s chronological (by date, not year) re-examination of exceptional team and/or individual performances in Fish history centers on 2012-13, the last two years of the organization’s most-successful on-field span.
What will become the winningest season ever (2012) begins with a 4-3 home win over Sedalia in Eric Peterson’s debut as head coach. All four Mudcats runs score in the bottom of the fourth inning, the last on a pitcher’s throwing error in a rundown. Aaron Hyder gets the win with 4-1/3 innings of 1-hit, 0-earned-runs, 5-strikeouts relief.
A 2012 home doubleheader sweep of Omaha Strike Zone includes a 9-0 win that is the closest any Mudcat ever has come to pitching a perfect game. Righthander Steve Adkins’ complete-game 2-hitter in the opener sees him retire every batter through 5-2/3 innings of the 7-innings game. Four outs away from a “perfecto,” he gives up back-to-back 2-outs singles, then sets down the next four batters to close out the gem.
In 2013, the first of what would become annual 1-game showcases at Trenton’s Burleigh Grimes Field results in a 5-2 loss to Nevada.
In the only such occurrence in their history to date, the 2013 Mudcats sweep a doubleheader against different opponents. Off to a 1-5 start to the season, the Fish travel to Johnson County (Kan.) Community College’s field and best the KC Area Ban Johnson Association’s Milgram Mustangs 9-6 and KC Sports Club Blues 19-5. Outfielder A.J. Hermanson is three for three with a double and four RBI in game one. In the second game, the Mudcats rip a then-team-record 22 hits, led by Australian infielder Sam Moon’s 4-5, 4-RBI, homer, double, and 3-runs game. Hermanson and Derek Birginske also go deep in game two as every slot in the batting order except No. 9 produces multiple hits.
Lefthander Sam Wood defies the odds at Nevada’s Lyons Field, often a hitter’s paradise, with a 4-hits, 6-strikeouts complete game in a 6-1 victory in 2012. He’s backed by SS Ryan Busch’s 3-4 game which includes a solo home run in the top of the fifth inning and Ryan Brinley’s 2-runs clout in the eighth.
After Sedalia ties the game 1-1 with a hitless run off starter Andrew Bramley (7 IP, one hit) in the seventh inning, the 2013 Mudcats score an exciting, walk-off triumph over Sedalia when Paul Trenhaile’s ninth-inning single is followed by Hermanson’s RBI double down the left field line. Birginske gets credit for the first of what will be 6-straight Fish victories by throwing two innings of 1-hit relief.
Third baseman Tyler Duplantis goes five for five, Busch is four for five, and Nate Arnold – soon to be lost for the rest of the 2012 season with an injury – goes three for five with 2 RBI to support Cole Isom’s complete game in a 7-1 home win over Ozark. A week or two later, Louisianan Duplantis will stroke a team-record-matching 6-straight hits, including a 4-for-4 game against Nevada.
Having stood 1-7 after a 7-games losing streak very early in the season, the 2013 Mudcats move above .500 for the first time since then with a 13-5, 9-6 doubleheader sweep of Ozark that gives them six victories in a row. Trenhaile, headed toward his team-record .434 batting average and .517 on-base percentage, has a 3-runs homer and double and four RBI while going four for five in the opener, then is two for three in the nightcap. Hermanson smacks a 2-runs homer in game two.
At always-tough Sedalia, the 2012 Mudcats have one of their best games of the year, winning 11-3. Righthanded reliever Lee Harrison takes over from wild starter Wood to begin the bottom of the fourth inning, inheriting an 8-2 lead. He goes the rest of the way, allowing only 1 unearned run on 4H. Multi-RBI games are provided by Busch, Duplantis, Kevin Barker, and Mitch Huckabay in the second win of an eventual team-record-tying 9-games winning streak. After being 13-15 on June 26, the Fish win 20 of their last 26 to end the year 33-21, the most wins in team history.
Owning a .500 record midway through the 2012 season, the Mudcats’ third victory in a row is an 8-1 hammering of Sedalia behind lefthanders Jamie Bittle (8 IP, 4H, 1R) and Rusty Edwards (1 IP). Huckabay goes three for four with a 2-runs triple as the Mudcats move above .500 to stay on their way to an 18-6 mark the rest of the season and a team-record 33 wins.
In the only Independence Day home game in their history, the Mudcats welcome a touring U.S. Military All-Stars team for a late-afternoon contest that draws an all-time-record estimated 2,000-plus fans to “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium. After the scheduled 7-innings game is tied 5-5 after seven, since it’s still relatively early, extra innings are played and the All-Stars score on a ninth-inning wild pitch to prevail, 6-5.
After tying the team record for consecutive victories with a 9-3 game-1 win at Omaha Diamond Spirit, the 2012 Mudcats are within an out of a record 10th in a row, leading 2-1 with two outs in the seventh, when a walk, a hit batsman, and walk-off triple beat them, 3-2.
For the first time in team history, the first Mudcats batter in a home game leaves the yard on this date in 2012. Lefty-swinging Taylor Johnson homers over the right field wall to start the bottom of the first inning and singles home Ryan Brinley in the third for the game’s only other run in a 2-0 victory over Nevada. Wood and Brinley combine for the shutout. Duplantis goes four for four, giving him hits in five consecutive at-bats. He’ll tie the team mark of six at-bats in a row with a hit the next day.
For the second of what will be three times in 2013, the Mudcats rake a team-record 22 hits in an 18-6 home win over North Kansas City Apartments. Derek Birginske leads the way, going 4-6 with a double, triple, and two RBI. Tanner Jones is 3-4 with a RBI and Tanner Bily, a midseason pickup who’ll finish with a .432 batting average and .512 on-base percentage in 74 at-bats, is 3-6 with two runs scored and a RBI.
The 2012 Mudcats break the 8-years-old team record for runs in a game in a 21-3 blowout of visiting Nevada. It’s the team’s 12th win in 14 games. Seven players have multi-RBI games and six have multiple hits. Brinley goes four for six with two doubles, four RBI, and two runs and Duplantis’ first-inning triple gives him hits in six successive at-bats over three games.
For the fourth time in five years, the Mudcats reach the 30-wins level when the 2012 club beats St. Joseph 9-5 behind Kevin Barker’s 3-for-3, 2-RBI, 2-runs game that includes a double and triple.
Trailing Joplin’s Outlaws 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning, the 2013 Fish provide the organization’s second-ever walk-off victory via a home run. After speedy Trevor Jones leads off the home ninth with a single and is bunted to second, outfielder Nathan Lukes slices a line drive to center field. Hoping to deny the tying run, the center fielder goes for the catch and just misses getting it. Instead, the ball bounces all the way to the base of the fence in deepest right-center field, nearly 400 feet from home plate. By the time the ball is tracked down and relayed toward home plate, Lukes has circled the bases for a game-ending, inside-the-park 2-runs homer.
For a third time, the 2013 Mudcats punish an opponent for 22 hits as they pound Joplin 18-6 at home. Two days after his game-ending home run, Lukes goes four for five with a double and RBI and Trenhaile continues his late-season hot streak, going three for three with four RBI.
With the organization not participating in a NBC World Series qualifying tournament for the first time in its 12-years history, a 14-2 home triumph over St. Joseph in the 2013 regular-season finale ends the season and Peterson’s 2-years stint as head coach with a 26-21 record. Going only one for five, Trenhaile still closes the year with a team-record .434 batting average and .517 on-base percentage. Outfielder David Zorn winds up with a .398 batting average and .487 OBP. With six players with 50 or more official at-bats ending the season with batting averages of .362 or higher, the 2013 club sets a still-standing record with a .312 team batting average. It also sets still-existing standards of 317 runs scored and 261 runs batted in.
With Clarinda, Iowa, not hosting a NBC World Series-qualifying regional tournament for the first time in a while since it’s already qualified as MINK North champion, the 2012 Mudcats take a crack at capturing a hastily-arranged Heartland Regional tourney at St. Joseph. Having lost once already, they stay alive with a 14-4, 7-innings victory over the Omaha Strike Zone Academy’s No. 2 team. Righthander Adkins moves to 6-1 with the complete game and postseason addition Steve Rogers is three for four with four RBI. A 7-runs bottom of the first inning paves the way to the shortened win, which is the team’s 32nd of the season, equaling the Mudcats’ record for a season.
The 2012 Mudcats hammer host St. Joseph 12-6 in the losers’-bracket final of the Heartland Regional Tournament, earning their team-record 33rd victory of the season. After allowing the Mustangs four runs on five hits in the top of the first inning, lefthander Chase Anderson settles down and checks them on one run the next five frames. The Mudcats tie the game at 4-4 with three runs in the third, getting RBI singles from postseason additions Nick Billinger, Rogers, and Nick DeLorenzo, then go in front 6-4 in the four on Ricky Martinez’s RBI single and a throwing error. Cameron product Levi Grassley’s RBI single in the fifth caps a 3-runs inning and another three in the seventh ice it. Martinez goes three for five with two RBI and Rogers drives in three, setting up a championship-round rematch the next day with Nevada, which had thumped the Fish 9-1 in the first round. Nevada would end the Mudcats’ season at 33-21 then by a 13-5 count.
(In the next installment in this series, 2014-16 games that produced remarkable and historic individual and team performances will be featured.)