REELING IN THE YEARS WITH THE MUDCATS: 2008 and '09 squads produced matching 32-17 marks, tons of thrills
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — While the Chillicothe Mudcats college-level baseball team rapidly established a positive vibe in its early years – pinnacled by the 2006 MINK League championship and first appearance in the National Baseball Congress World Series – and has maintained its high competitive standards in the recent past – with seasonal winning percentages of .617 or higher in half of the past six years and a 143-118 composite won-lost mark in that stretch, the Grand River Entertainment-sponsored club indisputably enjoyed its on-the-field zenith from 2008 to 2013.
Four summers of 30 or more victories in a 5-years span – each culminating with either a new team record for triumphs or a trip back to the World Series – saw an array of team and individual achievements eventually produce a cumulative 180-120 ledger over the 6-year-stretch. The average of 30 wins per year and .600 overall winning percentage in that mini-era stand clearly superior to the non-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 a ready-made opportunity to reflect on the notable successes of the second-most senior member of the MINK League.
Today’s chronological (by date, not year) re-examination of exceptional team and/or individual performances in Fish history shifts those six “golden” years 2008 to 2013.
Under new head coach Justin “Jud” Kindle, the Mudcats drill Mid-Missouri Crawdads from the Jefferson City area 11-2 in the 2008 season opener. David “Bubby” Williams goes four for five with two doubles, a triple, two RBI, and two runs. Luke Schlechte is two for three with a triple and three RBI and Cole Mazurek and Dallas Hord add two RBI each. It is the first of a new team-record 32 wins in ’08.
Although he’ll spectacularly mostly work in relief, 2008 righthander Aaron Kleekamp throws five innings of 2-hits ball as the starter before the non-league home game against the Moberly Redbirds is rained out after the first pitch of the top of the sixth inning, resulting in a 6-0 win. After being hitless in five at-bats in the first two games of the season, Dominic D’Anna has a hit, a walk, and is hit by a pitch in three plate appearances on his way to an eventual .400 season.
Matching 2004 for the latest start to a season, eventual 2009 ace Tyler Minto sustains the first of his losses in a 7-2 season in a 2-1 walk-off setback at St. Joseph, which is returning to the MINK League with a new team called the Mustangs after the former St. Joe Saints organization pulls the chute on a couple of years of operation as an independent minor-league pro operation. Minto’s other loss also would be a complete-game 2-1 defeat late in the season to eventual MINK League South Division champion Sedalia. In a team-record-matching 10 starts, Minto will work a record 69-2/3 innings and allow only five earned runs (0.69 ERA). Mudcats are limited to only three hits and an unearned run in their debut.
At hitter-friendly Lyons Field at Nevada, 2009 third baseman Brett Sowers homers twice and 1B Zach Amrein has four hits, but can’t prevent a 5-3 non-league loss.
The first of two-straight MINK League North Division champions begins its recovery from a 2-6 start to 2009 (it would win 30 of its next 39) with a 7-3 win at the Des Moines (Iowa) Merchants. Parker throws the first five innings, allowing only three hits, to get credit for his first Mudcats victory ever. Amrein and Brett Casto provide 4 IP of 0H relief to preserve Parker’s triumph, while top-of-the-lineup speedsters Sandford and Matty Johnson combine to go five for nine with three runs scored and six stolen bases.
2008 Fish catcher Dallas Hord, not particularly fleet afoot, nevertheless rips a 2-runs triple in a 5-runs first inning and then a bases-loaded 3-bagger in the fourth to pace a 15-3 pounding of host Topeka. For good measure, Hord also pitches the final inning.
In 2009, third baseman Brett Sowers continues one of the strongest starts to a season of any Mudcat, driving in five runs with a pair of doubles in a 15-9 home win over the Mac-N-Seitz Athletics.
Winning on the date for a sixth-straight year, the 2008 Mudcats edge always-tough Beatrice (Neb.) 2-1 when Dominic D’Anna scores from third base on a strike-3 passed ball in the bottom of the eighth inning. Aaron Meade and Andrew Dunn combine to out-duel future (2009 postseason) Mudcat and eventual minor-leaguer Shane Minks.
In a 2009 pitching pairing which will gain irony come the postseason and significance a handful of years later, Minto – in the midst of the finest season of Mudcats pitching ever – throws a complete-game 3-hitter in a 2-1 win over host Beatrice righthander Mike Mariot, who also goes the distance. At regular season’s end, Mariot will join the league-champion Mudcats for their postseason action, making two starts and allowing no runs in 13 innings. Five years later, in late April 2014, Mariot will become the first former Mudcat to reach the major leagues when the Kansas City Royals recall him from the minors.
Having blown a 4-0 lead during the portion of game against the Mac-N-Seitz Athletics begun at Richmond June 12, but suspended after nine innings with the score tied 4-4, the 2008 Mudcats strike quickly when the game is resumed at Blue Springs on this date prior to a regular-scheduled MINK League contest. Dallas Hord swats a triple and scores on a wild pitch in the top of the 10th, Dominic D’Anna swats a solo homer, and triples by Tyler Knight and Luke Schlechte give the Fish a 7-4 lead which Corey Theriot, who had pitched the eighth and ninth innings two weeks earlier, barely protects, getting the final out with the bases full. In the full game, D’Anna again goes deep – technically giving him home runs in a record 3-consecutive games – and is five for six in a 12-2 cakewalk.
Coming into their June 2009 finale only 8-7 in the league and 12-8 overall, the onrushing Mudcats use a pair of shutouts to close the month with 12 wins in their last 14 games. Minto and Scott Limbocker team for the 7-0 game one win before Richie Mascheri and Chris Williamson pair to blank the Topeka Golden Giants 4-0 in game two.
Lefthanded reliever Jimmy MacWilliam gets his only decision in 11 2009 appearances, relieving with two outs and the bases full in the bottom of the second inning at Clarinda with the Mudcats ahead 5-4. He gets the last out to preserve the lead and goes on to work 5-1/3 innings of 1-run ball in a 10-5 victory.
Minto, a 2-1 loser at St. Joseph in the season opener about a month earlier, throws eight shutout innings, allowing only two hits with no walks and nine strikeouts, in a 10-0 home win over the Mustangs. It’s the first of 3-straight shutout victories by the 2009 Fish.
The 2009 Mudcats continue their sprint toward the North Division title, completing a sweep of their three doubleheaders of the season with 2-0 and 5-2 home wins over Ozark. Minto picks up sixth win in seven decisions in opener before Zach Amrein’s four innings of 1-hit, 0-runs relief and Grant Grgurich’s 2-outs, 2-runs triple up the right-center field alley in the sixth inning for a 3-2 lead key a comeback win in the nightcap.
Scott Limbocker, Richie Mascheri, and Freddie Soto – who gets the win – combine for eight innings of 3-hits, 0-runs relief as the 2009 Mudcats squeeze past the host Mac-N-Seitz Athletics 4-2 in 13 innings.
What will become a new team record 9-games winning streak begins after the 2008 Mudcats blow a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the seventh and final inning of a doubleheader at Clarinda, Iowa, losing 9-7 on a walk-off home run. In game two, the Mudcats take a lead with three runs in the third and post six in the fifth – including consecutive RBI doubles by Tyler Bullock, Cody Fick, and Dallas Hord – en route to a 9-3 triumph. Had they protected the final-inning lead in game one, the eventual winning streak would have been 13 straight, since they’d won the previous three.
For the second – and, to date, last – time in team history, a Mudcat hits for the cycle in a 10-4 2008 home win over the Mac-N-Seitz Athletics. About a month after a 2-triples, 5-RBI game at Topeka, catcher Dallas Hord not only hits for the cycle, but has it complete by the sixth inning. Having homered in the bottom of the second inning three batters after Tyler Knight had done the same – the only time in team history two Mudcats have homered at Shaffer Park stadium in the same inning, Hord’s cycle-capping 2-runs triple to center field caps a 5-runs sixth inning that makes it 9-3, Mudcats. Hord’s home run would be the last a Mudcat would hit at home for nearly three years until Zach Esquerra’s walk-off grand slam in 2011.
With the club playing out the regular-season string before the Central USA Regional Tournament, head coach “Jud” Kindle decides to ease the workload on his pitching staff and makes the start at Clarinda himself. He also finishes the game, tossing a 10-hits shutout in a 4-0 victory that is the club’s sixth in a row.
The 2008 regular-season finale produces an eighth-straight triumph, 5-4 over the host Mac-N-Seitz Athletics. Down 4-1 after six innings, the Mudcats get two in the seventh, then a tying leadoff homer from third baseman Sean Loggins in the eighth. Matty Johnson doubles home the go-ahead run with one out in the inning and reliever Blake Barber is perfect in the eighth and ninth as he earns his sixth win of the season.
In a “stay busy” game, the 2009 MINK League champion Mudcats host Alaska’s Midnight Sun Gold Panners and lost 9-5. In the game, Darian Sandford goes three for three and steals four bases, hiking his season-record total to 41 thefts. He’ll go on to swipe 14 bases in 17 attempts in nine postseason games (LCS, tune-ups, and NBC World Series) to finish the year with still-record 50.
Again hosting the Midnight Sun Gold Panners, the 2009 Mudcats make a winner out of reliever Colin Parker with a 2-runs rally in the ninth, prevailing 6-5. The Chillicothean throws three innings of 1-hit, 0-runs, 4-strikeouts ball for his second win of the season. Postseason addition Toby Davis’ single scores Bryan Mason from second to end the game.
Opening play in the 2008 Central USA Regional tournament at Clarinda, Iowa,, a 4-2 victory over Omaha Diamond Spirit not only enhances chances of winning the title and qualifying for the NBC World Series, but is a record-setting ninth win in a row (matched in 2012). Winning pitcher Andrew Dunn strikes out 14, walks only one, and hits one, while catcher Dallas Hord continues his torrid late-season hitting by going three for four.
Coming out of the losers’ bracket to face host Clarinda in the 2008 regional’s championship round, the Mudcats get a surprising six RBI from speedy singles hitter Matty Johnson as they blow out the A’s 15-5 and force a decisive game immediately afterward. In it – the Mudcats’ fourth game in two days and fifth in three, they surge to an immediate 3-0 lead on Dominic D’Anna’s RBI single and Tyler Bullock’s 2-runs single in the top of the first. However, starting pitcher Nolan “Bubba” Martz tires after throwing hitless ball the first three innings and still nursing a 3-1 lead with two outs in the fifth. He can’t get out of the fifth, leaving with the bases full and still a 3-2 lead. However, reliever Blake Barber – a starter all season – loses an 8-pitches duel with the first batter he faces, surrendering a grand slam that puts the Mudcats behind 6-3. Bullock, a burly lefthanded hitter who drove in 21 runs in only 17 games after joining the team in early July, socks a solo homer in the eighth to pull the Fish within two, but Clarinda holds on and win 7-4 to advance to the World Series and end the Mudcats’ year at 32-17.
Although the tune-up game is meaningless as the Mudcats and Sedalia try to stay sharp during their extended wait for the 2009 NBC World Series, it features an exceptional performance by the pitcher who, in 2014, will become the first ex-Mudcat to don a major league uniform.
Added from the Beatrice (Neb.) Bruins roster for the Mudcats’ postseason play, righthander Mike Mariot starts in the game at Sedalia and retires the first 17 Bombers he faces. Following an error, he gets the next batter to complete six hitless innings in what ends up as a 4-2 Chillicothe victory.
A week later, Mariot – who, ironically, had pitched a complete game in Chillicothe for Beatrice during the regular season – starts the Mudcats’ second Series game and throws seven shutout innings of 5-hits ball before being relieved with the Mudcats ahead 5-0. However, the bullpen fails to do the job and Valley Center, Kan., comes back to win, 6-5. When the Fish blow another lead and lose the next day, being ousted from the tourney, Mariot’s brief, but highly-impressive and ultimately-historic, stint with the team is over.