Joplin Outlaws Bushwhack Road-Weary Chillicothe Mudcats Again

Southwest Missouri hosts score seven runs each in fifth, seventh innings to erase 6-2 deficit, win 16-6 in seven again Friday, June 18

As reported to C-T

JOPLIN, Mo. — The 2021 Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats baseball team collectively hit the sheets Friday with the hope that they’d reached rock bottom with the second of back-to-back 16-6, 7-innings road drubbings by the Joplin Outlaws.

A night after the inability of relief pitchers in a numbers-strapped staff to “hold the fort” and give the offense some time to rally, the Mudcats used a 5-runs fifth inning to surge into a 6-2 lead, only to have a combination of strong Joplin hitting and multiple bases on balls produce 7-runs frames in the fifth and seventh to abruptly turn the MINK League contest into an early-ending rout.

The defeats – the first time the Mudcats have dropped consecutive games slated to last nine innings in less than that distance since the league adopted the so-called “10-run rule” (a team wins if leading by 10 or more runs after the opponent has completed at least seven innings of at-bats) about five years ago – dropped the ’21 Fish records to 4-8 overall and 3-8 in the league.

Trying to snap a 5-games losing streak, Chillicothe will have its last of five road games in a row Saturday (June 19) at 7 p.m. at Jefferson City against the Renegades before returning home to host St. Joseph Sunday at 5:05 p.m. at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium.

Although not confirmed, it seems possible Meadville's Conner Fletcher will get the call to start one of the two weekend games.

Friday’s contest just a few miles from the Kansas and Oklahoma state lines saw the Outlaws rob the Mudcats of their momentum with the 7-runs fifth-inning answer to Chillicothe’s 5-spot in the top half of the frame and then swipe their would-be last two potential chances to rally by eliminating the eighth and ninth innings with another “lucky seven” in the home seventh.

Given the overpowering dominance shown by Joplin relief pitcher Gavin Heltemes in the top of the sixth and seventh, it likely would not have made any difference if the Outlaws added to their 9-6 lead.

The Fayetteville, Ark., righthander surrendered a bases-loaded triple to Mudcats first baseman Tanner Sears as the second man he faced after entering a 3-1 game with the bases full and one out in the top of the fifth.

Having fanned cooled-off league RBI leader Greyson Barrett prior to Sears’ hit, Heltemes brooked no more nonsense. With a potential seventh Chillicothe run at third, he ended the fifth with a line drive to center field which was caught, then struck out the side in both the sixth and seventh innings.

By then, his offensive teammates had positioned him to get the win with their hefty home fifth. Then they made it fact by finishing off the Fish at their earliest opportunity.

Heltemes’ scoreless 2-2/3-innings stint which included seven strikeouts among nine men faced was a virtual perfect copy of the performance provided by Nevada right-handed reliever Sebastian Kirchner seven nights before.

In the game which began the current Chillicothe losing streak, Kirchner entered a game the Mudcats had just rallied to tie and fanned seven of the eight batters he faced to gain credit for a 9-7 10-innings win .

Just as they did the previous night at Joplin’s hitter-friendly Joe Becker Stadium – three of the club’s four highest-scoring games (30 combined runs) in history have occurred there, including on back-to-back nights in 2018, the Mudcats grabbed the initial lead in the top of the first, but trailed when they came back up in the second.

On Friday, Payton Allen’s first of two singles began the contest. After he stole second, an off-target throw by the Joplin shortstop after making a fine fielding play not only let Josh Swinehart reach base, but also permitted Allen to round third and score.

Swinehart soon stole second base, too, while Barrett batted with no outs, but a strikeout-caught stealing twin-killing quelled the threat and the visitors would not score again until the fifth.

Coming off a very strong start in a home win over Nevada, 6’6” Chillicothe righthander Logan Snow deserved to get through the first inning unscathed. Had he done so, it might have made the middle of the game play out differently, due to a lower pitch count for him.

Unfortunately, after picking a man off second after walking the first Joplin batter and hitting the second, a 1-out fielding error created an extra chance for the home team to keep batting after Snow retired the No. 4 batter on a popup following a successful double-steal tied the game.

A second walk of the inning was followed by a ground-rule double to right-center field which pushed Joplin ahead, 2-1.

After Snow and Outlaws counterpart Jeremiah Kennedy largely breezed through the second, third and fourth innings, the Mudcats got to an apparently-tiring Kennedy and briefly retook the lead.

Zack Stewart and Chillicothean Wes Brandsgaard started the top of the fifth with consecutive singles. Jaxon Hotta then waited out a walk, filling the sacks.

Following a strikeout, Allen drew another free pass, tying the game, and Swinehart hit a sinking line drive into center field for a basehit which scored the go-ahead run and ended Kennedy’s time on the bump.

When Sears followed Heltemes’ fanning of Barrett with a line drive over the head of the center field and to the fence in deep right-center, Swinehart sped home from first behind Hotta and Allen. Down one at inning’s beginning, the Fish now led by four with hopes of more.

It not only did not happen, but again their advantage failed to survive the home half of the inning.

Having set down the last six Outlaws he’d confronted and 10 of the past 12, Snow strode back to the hill, needing to get three outs to put himself in position for a possible second victory in a row.

He didn’t get even one, through no one’s fault but his own.

With the heart of the Joplin batting order to face in the fifth, Snow walked the first man, then hit each of the next two. Perhaps suspecting Snow’s long break on the bench while his teammates were scoring five times in the top half had cooled him down too much, Chillicothe head coach Tyler Hudlow aggressively went to his bullpen before any scoring damage had been done against Snow, summoning another righthander, Cole Mammenga.

Mammenga had worked quite well in his most-recent prior appearance (3-1/3 innings, no earned runs, two hits) six nights before and toted a solid season earned-run average of 2.84 to the hill with him. By the time he departed for the evening, it had nearly quadrupled to 10.39.

Ominously, the Minnesotan walked the first foe he faced. After getting a popup, he issued another run-scoring base on balls, cutting the Chillicothe lead to 6-4.

The next Outlaw to step in – the third of seven in a row who batted with the bases full – “closed the book” on Snow with a run-scoring single to center, bringing Joplin within a run.

Frustratingly for the visitors, the next two batters also received free passes that tacked on a run at a time. The fifth walk of the frame (not including the two hit batters) nudged the Outlaws back in front, 7-6, still with one out.

The next batter did not take a walk, but that wasn’t a totally good thing for the Mudcats. Logan Cline’s 2-runs single plated two runs for a 9-6 Joplin lead.

When Mammenga got a strikeout and groundout from the next two batters to stop the bleeding and then retired Joplin 1-2-3 in the sixth, there was hope he’d gotten fully loose and would continue to keep the Outlaws in custody to create a chance for a late comeback.

However, he apparently was spent.

Another inning-starting walk lit the fuse to Joplin’s closing explosion, which eventually involved six hits (three apiece) and seven game-terminating tallies off Mammenga and infielder-turned-emergency-reliever Blake Falor.

Falor actually deserved to keep the score at the 12-6 margin it was when he entered with one out.

On the first batter he faced, a good backhanded stop in the hole by shortstop Allen was followed by a rushed, low throw to second on a forceout attempt. The uncompleted play was ruled an error, leaving men at first and second.

Had the out at second occurred, the subsequent RBI double by Brett Weimers would only have left men at second and third with two outs and the groundout to second by the next batter would have retired the side.

Instead, it was only the second out and drove in another run, making it 14-6. A run-scoring single added another marker and, after a steal of second, a hit to right-center field allowed the runner at second to score easily and create the 10-runs spread.

Statistically, the Mudcats were out-hit 11-6 and also way on the wrong end of a walks/hit batsmen-to-strikeouts imbalance. While only two Fish drew walks and 12 whiffed, in addition to their 11 hits, 12 Outlaws reached via base on balls or hit batter, while a mere two went down on strikes.

For Chillicothe, Sears finished two for three with the three RBI off one swing of the bat and Allen was two for three plus a walk and two runs scored.

With a 1-for-3 night, local product Brandsgaard – again relegated to the bottom third of the lineup (seventh) Friday – now has hit safely in seven of the eight games he’s played to date.

His on-base rate slipped slightly, but remained an extraordinarily-healthy and team-high .545. Although hit batting average also dipped a smidgen, he actually took over the team lead in average at .375 since Barrett went zero for three and dropped to .360. Sears’ mark climbed to .371, second behind Brandsgaard.

The left-handed-swinging Chillicothean’s on-base rate is fifth in the league among players averaging at least 2.7 plate appearances per team games played. He has just enough plate appearances (33) to qualify for that list.