Linder Hikes Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats' Interest in Winning with Skid-Busting Start Saturday

(Updated with additional information June 20, 11:40 a.m.) Smallish righthander from tiny north Missouri village follows shutout 6-innings relief stint with 8 innings of 1-run start three nights later as Fish top Jefferson City 4-2 June 19

As reported to C-T

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — It’s had to say which was better about Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcat Koby Linder Saturday night (June 19) – his pitching or his timing?

Although a lot of 2021 season “water” remains to flow under the proverbial bridge, if the college-level, wood-bat baseball makes something really positive out of its slow-starting season, the answer ultimately might be the latter.

With the Mudcats completing a week-long string of MINK League road games at Jefferson City’s cozy Ernie Vivion Field and mired in a 5-games losing streak, the 5’10”, 150-pounds right-handed pitcher from tiny Green Castle (population 275 people) about halfway between Milan and Kirksville in north Missouri not only stood tall while making his first start for the team, but hoisted the struggling club on his shoulders and carried it to a streak-snapping 4-2 triumph over the host Renegades.

Holding Jefferson City to only one run and seven hits on 107 pitches over eight innings was praiseworthy enough, but there was more sub-text.

The slightly-built Linder (3-1) from the diminutive Sullivan County village did so only three nights after he’d fired six innings of 3-hits shutout relief in a game at Sedalia, an outing which would have been his third win were it not for two errors – including a dropped, routine fly ball with two outs that let the tying run score in what became a 7-6 loss for his Saturday night catcher, Tanner Sears.

Sears did his part both offensively and behind the dish to help Linder’s yeoman mound work produce a positive result.

The Higginsville product’s night included going two for four, including a double, plus a walk as a batter, a first-inning, 2-outs steal of third base which lured a wild throw that let him continue on home with a second Chillicothe run of the inning, and solid collaboration with his batterymate to keep the Renegades in line.

Although Linder surrendered seven hits and walked four, he never surrendered the “big” hit or “big” inning that have hurt the Mudcats the past week.

After allowing a run on a pair of 2-outs hits in the bottom of the first inning, narrowing the lead he’d been staked to to 2-1, he retired the side in order in the Jeff City second and third, worked around a 1-out, ground-rule double in the fourth, and again stranded a man in scoring position in the fifth and sixth segments.

Aided back in the first by a sharp relay play from left fielder Greyson Barrett to shortstop Blake Falor to Sears to cut down a runner trying to score from first base on a 1-out double, Linder then caged a Renegade himself in the bottom of the seventh.

After the leadoff hitter of the inning singled in a 4-1 game, the Chillicothe hurler’s quick move picked him off before the opening pitch to the next batter. That made a single two batters later less problematic, especially when followed by an inning-ending fly out to right fielder Lucas Loos.

With the Mudcats too vulnerable to big innings throughout the week’s journeys to Jefferson City, Sedalia, Joplin, and finally back to the state’s capitol city, it figured that a “moment of truth” would occur somewhere along the line. It finally surfaced in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Near the 100-pitches mark through seven frames, but with the club’s bullpen mostly containing flammable materials of late, Linder was sent back to the hill by first-year head coach Tyler Hudlow, an assistant coach for the North Central Missouri College baseball program of which Linder was a member this spring.

Encountering the heart of the Jeff City lineup – all left-handed swingers, the Fish righthander retire the dangerous first batter before walking the next. Another fly ball to Loos in right eased the tension briefly, but the next Renegade grounded a hit into left field.

A pinch-hitter then sent a sharply-hit ball to the right side that newly-inserted second baseman Max Huntley knocked down, but couldn’t get an out on. Although charged with an error that loaded the bases, his keeping the ball on the infield meant the Mudcats still led by three.

With the tying run now on base, Hudlow chose to stay with Linder to face another pinch-hitter in a ballpark at which Jefferson City had launched three home runs in two innings while storming back from a 12-3 deficit to eventually top Chillicothe 13-12 six nights before.

The pinch-hitter, Andrew Paten, didn’t waste any time letting his lumber loose.

On the first pitch he saw, he ripped a high fly ball toward center field, sending Fish flyhawk Josh Swinehart retreating toward the fence only about 380 feet away from home plate. With the ball sure to tie the game if it landed uncaught on the field of play and destined to put the home team in front if it carried over the fence, Swinehart roamed all the way onto the warning track before reaching up to let the ball settle into his leather for – instead – the inning’s final out.

That proved to be the last batter Linder faced, but not the last nervous moment of the night.

Given the woes of the relief-pitching staff of late, Hudlow chose instead to – for a third game in a row – try to have one of the team’s regular infielders finish the game on the mound, this time trying to preserve a win, rather than just save arms in a pending blowout loss.

Brought to the bump was righthander Payton Allen, a freshman at the University of Kansas this past school year who was portrayed prior to the summer as a potential option at pitcher, if required.

Making his first appearance in that alternate role, the Bentonville, Ark., product, presumably kept out of the starting lineup for the game with the idea of using him as a relief hurler, didn’t inspire immediate confidence, but ultimately notched the team’s first save of the season.

Greeted by a third-consecutive Jeff City pinch-hitter, Allen was touched for a leadoff single, bringing the top of the Renegades’ lineup to bear.

When Caden Diel, who had singled off Linder in his two most-recent at-bats, pounded a run-scoring double, another disturbing defeat – albeit in harmony with the rest of the stretch of away games the Fish had played during the week – seemed almost inevitable.

Allen had alternative plans, if not facts, in mind, though.

Perhaps getting a feel for the mound and a rhythm to his renewed role of flinger, not fielder, the Jayhawk got the first out of the ninth by fanning the No. 2 man in the JC lineup.

That still left lefty-swinging, hard-hitting Carter Mize and, behind him, catcher Hamilton Anderson to deal with. Mize’s double and Anderson’s single with two outs in the first had put the first Renegades tally on the scoreboard and the latter, who socked one of the “taters” in the previous Monday’s big comeback, had later doubled and drawn a walk.

Anderson didn’t get a chance to do further damage, however, as Allen got Mize to hit into a threat-terminating and game- and losing-streak-ending double play, preserving both the team and enormously-deserving Linder’s victory.

Even though it ultimately had not done Chillicothe any good in the first four games on the road tour, it scored – with help – in the opening half-inning Saturday.

With Allen apparently being held in reserve, Zack Stewart got the start at shortstop and as leadoff man.

He absorbed an off-target delivery from Jefferson City lefthander Jacob Davis to begin things, then watched from first base while the next two Fish fanned.

Sears kept the inning going with a basehit which let Stewart go to third, an extra 90 feet which eventually meant two runs.

With runners at the corners, Trevor Kardell batting, and two out, on a called play, the not-so-fast Sears took off for second base with a pitch. When he lured a throw toward second, Stewart made a well-timed break for home from third and fairly easily swiped it ahead of the return peg to the plate from the middle infielders who chose to surrender what would have been a near-certain retiring of Sears in a rundown for the unsuccessful bid to keep the game 0-0.

The double-steal successful, as Kardell locked into a long battle with Davis, Sears decided another risk was worth taking.

After the big right-handed hitter, able to join the Mudcats for their weekend action after having spent the week working out with his KU football teammates (he’s a wide receiver in the Jayhawks’ program), fought off a couple of 2-2 pitches with foul balls, Sears broke for third base as another delivery from the Renegades southpaw went home. The pitch not only missed the strike zone for ball three, but the catcher’s attempted delivery of the ball to third to try to nail Sears was off-target, too. It eluded the third baseman, allowing the Chillicothe catcher to continue on home with an unearned second run.

Already having contributed defensively with his arm, Barrett, whose MINK League “player of the week” honor for the previous week could be succeeded by Linder being “pitcher of the week” for this week, offset the Renegades’ run in the bottom of the first by moving into a tie with Anderson for the league lead in home runs with his fourth with a man down in the third. The run batted in was the Chillicothe batter’s 20th, pushing him two ahead of Anderson in that category atop the league.

The Mudcats’ margin edged wider to 4-1 in the sixth with the aid of Chillicothean Wes Brandsgaard.

Owner of one of the league’s top-5 on-base percentages (.545) entering the action and having reached once already Saturday via a hit by pitch, the 6’4”, 225-pounds left-handed hitter solved the lefty-throwing Davis for a leadoff double in the top of the sixth.

Loos, trying to emerge from a slow hitting start to his summer, followed with a run-scoring single, making the visitors’ lead three and sending Davis to the showers. Although they wouldn’t add on against three subsequent Renegades relievers, the Fish had enough to get them by, thanks mostly to Linder.

The victory provides an opportunity for the Mudcats to try to start a winning streak at home today (Sunday), when St. Joseph is slated to visit for a 5:05 p.m. game (note unusual start time).

At the time this article was updated (Sunday, 11:45 a.m.), no word had been received on whether overnight and morning rain and expectation of more rain before, at, or during game time was going to prompt a postponement had been received.

Statistically Saturday, Chillicothe (5-8, 4-8 MINK) snapped its skid despite being out-hit 10-6 and stranding 11 runners. The Mudcats also struck out 10 times to Jefferson City’s six and made two of the game’s five errors, although none of the visitors’ errors turned into runs.

Sears had the only multi-hits night for the winners. Diel’s three safeties paced the hosts.

With a base on balls in his last plate appearance, Brandsgaard continued to reach safely at an outstanding and team-pacing rate.

Getting aboard in three of his four times up Saturday, the 2020 Chillicothe High School graduate lifted his on-base rate to .568, third-best in the entire league among players with at least 36 plate appearances.

With a 1-for-2 game, hit-wise, Brandsgaard’s team-lead-sharing batting average climbed to .385, a mark to which Sears, also a North Central Missouri College player like Linder this spring, also ascended with his 2-for-4 game. They’re tied for seventh in the league.

Speaking of 2021 NCMC players, outfielder Braedyn Brewer, a .324 hitter thus far and owner of several outstanding catches, has been fairly-conspicuous absent from this week’s play, due to injury.

Team general manager Doug Doughty responded to an inquiry about Brewer and others who had not played during the recent team downturn by saying the Kansas City area product was dealing with some leg muscle issues that Brewer and the team didn’t want to make worse.

Team officials hope he’ll be well enough to return to action before long, but the type of injuries he’s confronting can be aggravated or worsened if not allowed to sufficiently heal.

Doughty also noted the reason Kardell has been used only during weekend games and disclosed that another Chillicothean on the roster, lefthanded pitcher Tristen Sewell, has not yet seen action because he’s completing some Missouri National Guard service obligations.