Swinehart Record Swats Lead Mudcats’ First ’21 Victory
Western Michigan product powers two over home-park boards in 11-6 win Saturday
Even in their 19th season of play, the Chillicothe Mudcats still are producing “firsts” in team history.
Saturday night, Kalamazoo, Mich., resident Josh Swinehart ripped two pitches over the left-field wall of “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium – the first Mudcat ever to do so in the same contest, driving in three runs and scored four times to lead the 2021 Mudcats to their first triumph, 11-6 over the visiting Queen City Crush, a Fellowship of Christian Athletes-sponsored non-MINK League foe from Springfield.
Facing Crush starting pitcher Quinn Price with two outs and none on in the bottom of the first inning, Swinehart tied into a full-count delivery for a 1-0 lead. Then, in the sixth, after a Payton Allen double and Braedyn Brewer RBI single had snapped a 5-5 tie, Swinehart launched the first pitch he saw from reliever Landon Shigeta for a 2-runs bomb over the boards in left again.
After the Crush inched a bit closer with a tally in their seventh, the Mudcats tacked on three insurance runs in the eighth to solidify their inaugural victory of the very young season after two defeats.
Chillicothe’s college-level, wood-bat baseball team is on the road today, getting back into MINK League play with a 7 p.m. visit to Nevada. Righthander Jake Young (Fairmont State University) is the planned starting pitcher for the Fish, making his personal debut.
The host Griffons routed St. Joseph 12-0 in seven innings on the road Saturday.
The 6’3”, 200-pounds, righthanded-swinging Swinehart, who attends Western Michigan University in his hometown, joins switch-hitting Garrett Bass, a 2005-06 Fish, as the only Mudcats ever to have two home runs in a home game.
Bass, son of former major league outfielder Kevin Bass, was credited with an inside-the-park home run in the fourth inning of a June 11, 2005, home game when, batting righthanded, he pulled a hit down the left field line, where it ended up rolling into a large puddle of water in the grass in foul territory. The Topeka Golden Giants left field mistakenly thought the ball would be ruled dead because of that and quit pursuing it, allowing Bass to re-accelerate as he rounded second base and easily beat a belated relay throw toward the infield after the outfielder realized the ball still was “live.”
Having victimized lefthander Jon Hansen, a 2004 member of the Mudcats, for the double-turned-homer in the fourth, Bass was batting lefthanded against a relief pitcher when he led off the seventh inning of that game with a rare blast over the Shaffer Park boards in right. Bass remains No. 3 on the team’s all-time home runs list with seven in his two years in Chillicothe.
Swinehart’s pair of circuit clouts made him the 11th Fish ever with a multiple-home-runs game, the previous-most-recent of which came on June 15, 2019, when Jack Grace walloped a team-record-equaling three in a game at Springfield against the Ozark Generals.
Although not involved in the pitching decision, Saturday’s Mudcats victory came in a game started by 2021 Meadville High graduate Conner Fletcher.
The 6’2” righthander was touched for five hits and five runs – only two earned – while throwing the first four innings. While notching four strikeouts, he handed out six bases on balls and had two deliveries hit Crush batters while making 80 pitches overall.
Four of the runs scored in the second after Fletcher had worked a perfect first frame and were facilitated by an unfortunate combination of his own three walks, a hit batsman, and a dropped long fly ball with the bases loaded.
If not for the drop of the sacrifice fly that let all three runners score, Fletcher would had thrown six less pitches in the third and been at 74 through four. That might have led head coach Tyler Hudlow to let him at least begin the fifth – with what would have been a 5-2 lead – to give him the possibility of completing five innings and potentially qualifying for the win.
Instead, righthanded reliever Koby Linder (Green Castle, Mo., North Central Missouri College) picked up the “W” with a 4-innings, 1-run outing that lasted from the fifth through the eighth innings. Linder fanned five, walked two, and hit one, while allowing four hits. He stranded seven QCC runners.
He gained position for the victory when the Mudcats scored the quick-strike three runs with the top third of their batting order after the first batter of the bottom of the sixth struck out.
With the 8-6 Chillicothe lead in jeopardy in the top of the eighth, an outstanding defensive play – ironically by the same player who’d made the error in the second – bailed Linder and the Fish out.
With the bases full and only one out, a Crush batter lifted a pop fly in foul territory a short distance onto the outfield grass behind first base. Trevor Kardell, who was making his first game appearance as the starting left fielder before switching spots with starting first baseman Greyson Barrett in mid-game, hurried back and to his left and caught up with the ball only about a stride or two from the fence in foul territory.
As he speared the ball for the second out of the inning, the runner at third, who had wisely tagged up, broke toward home and, despite the risk-reward ratio in a game his team trailed by two, continued all the way to the plate even as Kardell used the wooden fence to brake his momentum, pivoted, and quickly made a throw home. The big (6’5”, 240-pounds) Lee’s Summit resident and 2020-21 University of Kansas freshman’s peg to the plate was on-target enough for receiver Tanner Sears (Higginsville, Mo., NCMC) to snag it and get the tag on the arriving runner for an inning-inning, rally-squelching double play that kept the lead at two runs.
Seizing on that momentum, the Mudcats put up three valuable, 2-outs, insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. After a wild pitch and an error let Brewer score, Swinehart stole second, took third on another wild pitch, and – after a walk to Sears – stole home on the back end of a successful double-steal. Sears, who moved on into second base safely as Swinehart scored, then dashed home on a Kardell double, the Jayhawk’s first hit.
The ninth inning saw another Mudcats first when right-handed pitcher Myles Janson entered and worked around a 2-outs ground-ball hit into center field.
With his entry, the 6’6”, 240-pounds Janson became the first Englishman to play for the Fish. The Leicester, England, resident, who attends California’s Menlo College with Mudcats teammates Logan Snow and Jaxon Hotta, adds Great Britain to the list of foreign countries which have had a resident compete for Chillicothe. Previously, Czechoslovakia, Australia, the Dominican Republic, Canada, and Venezuela have had players don the Mudcats uniform.
The Mudcats balanced the Crush’s error-aided 4-runs second with four tallies of their own in the third to reclaim the lead.
Starting the inning off, Swinehart again went to a full count, just as he had before homering in the first. This time, however, instead of him hitting the ball, the ball hit him.
When the Crush third baseman threw wildly while trying to force him on Sears’ subsequent grounder, Swinehart motored on to third base and Sears hustled into second. A walk to Kardell then loaded the bags with no outs for another player getting into his first Mudcats game, Blake Falor.
The freshman Floridian from Andrew College, who had walked in his first plate appearance, sent an opposite-field fly ball just far enough to right field to let Swinehart dash home after the catch and Sears, with no prior outs, smartly take third on the throw to the plate.
After Max Huntley waited out a 4-pitches walk, lefthanded-hitting Barrett slashed a tailing drive to center field that went past the outfielder there for a lead-seizing 3-runs double, although the batter was cut down trying for a triple.
Statistically in Saturday’s first Fish win of 2021, Swinehart was joined in the spotlight by Barrett and Sears.
While Swinehart had the record-setting long balls, but also used his legs to score four times, Barrett matched his three RBI and two hits, including a second-inning double to right-center that was wasted. Sears had a team-high three hits, including a double that followed Swinehart’s first-inning blast.
Chillicothe batters drew a solid seven walks and had one hit by pitch, while striking out only two times. Despite the 10 hits and eight “free bases,” the Mudcats stranded only seven men.
Queen City was held to only seven hits and two earned runs by the trio of Chillicothe pitchers, although Fish flingers did dole out eight more walks and three hit batsmen. Through only three games, Chillicothe pitchers have issued 26 walks and hit 10 men.