Clutch Hit Eludes Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats in Return

First game after week of rainouts ends as 2-1 loss to Nevada June 28

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Infielder Nick Cox of the 2021 Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats baseball team follows through on his seventh-inning swing which produced a run-scoring single to right field. That was the only run the Mudcats scored as they dropped their MINK League game in Chillicothe to the Nevada (Mo.) Griffons, 2-1, Monday, June 28.

By PAUL STURM, C-T/LCL Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Playing as visitors on their home field in a short-notice switch made to get them back into action, the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats got very strong pitching and solid defense against the Nevada Griffons Monday (June 28) in 2021 MINK League baseball play.

What they didn’t get was the timely hit in the clutch which could have prevented the 2-1 loss which went in the books.

The Mudcats (5-11, 4-11 MINK) left a dozen runners on base – half of them in scoring position, twice never advancing runners who were aboard at first and second bases with no outs, including in the ninth inning.

Facing Griffons bullpen ace Sebastian Kirchner leading off the ninth in a 1-run game, Chillicothe No. 9 hitter Zack Stewart and leadoff man Braeden Brewer battled their way to 8- and 7-pitches walks, respectively.

That’s right where they stayed, though.

Kirchner, who fanned eight of the nine Mudcats he faced while earning the win in a 9-7 10-innings Griffons victory at Chillicothe’s “Chuck” Haney Field on June 12, struck out Nick Cox swinging on a 2-2 delivery after Cox – initially attempting to sacrifice bunt – had taken one strike and fouled off an attempted bunt.

He followed with a 4-pitches whiff of slump-ridden Mudcats No. 3 batter Greyson Barrett and then dispatched cleanup man Tanner Sears on three deliveries to deal Chillicothe its eighth loss in its past nine games.

With the idle week of repeated postponements added it, the Fish have not won in nine days entering Tuesday’s scheduled home game with red-hot MINK North Division leader Clarinda, Iowa, and have only one triumph in 18 days.

The current stretch of eight winless days equals the second-longest such drought in team history, equaling one in the team’s second year of play (2003). The longest gap of calendar days came in the Mudcats’ debut season (2002) when they had nine between victories on June 29 and July 9. In the interim, they dropped a team-record six games, a skid matched on six late June-early July dates in 2018.

In an incredible display of overpowering dominance and mastery across three appearances in the four games between the Fish and Nevada (10-11, 9-11 MINK) this season, the Griffons’ Kirchner pitched to 21 Chillicothe batters and only two – two – put the ball in play, neither for a hit.

On June 6 at Nevada, in a game the Mudcats led and barely held on to win, Kirchner pitched to eight batters, striking out five – including the last three, walking one, and getting two ground-ball outs, one of which produced a double play.

Then, on June 12 in Chillicothe’s “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium, he entered a 1-run game with a runner at third and struck out the first batter, although a wild pitch along the way allowed the Mudcats to net the tying run. After walking the first batter of the next inning, he fanned the next six to send the game into a 10th inning, during which Nevada scored twice to make him the winner as a teammate earned a shaky save in the bottom of the 10th.

Monday, again at Shaffer Park where the game – rained out at Nevada the night before – abruptly was shifted during the early afternoon hours when the field at Nevada’s Lyons Stadium remained too wet to accommodate a game that evening, Kirchner once more literally proved untouchable, as far as allowing balls to be hit into fair territory.

As a result, his totals in three outings covering 5-2/3 innings against Chillicothe were no hits or runs allowed with strikeouts of 15 of the 21 batters faced. He allowed four walks and got the two groundouts.

Chillicothe (Mo.) baseball Mudcats pitcher Mitch Alba delivers an early-innings pitch during the college-level summer team's MINK League game against Nevada (Mo.) Monday, June 28, 2021. Although he allowed only two runs in five innings, Alba was tagged with the losing decision as Nevada won, 2-1, in Chillicothe.

Nullified by the even-better pitching from the Nevada hill trio of starter Richard Kiel (first seven innings) and relievers Steve Marhefke (eighth) and Kirchner was the hurling of the Chillicothe duo of starter Mitch Alba (0-2) and Koby Linder.

After Alba went a solid five innings with only two runs allowed, although he gave up five hits, walked three, and threw four wild pitches.

Linder, by far the Mudcats’ top moundsman to date, then threw three scoreless innings of relief, retiring nine of the 10 Griffons he faced – four on strikes, while surrendering one harmless hit. His earned run average sank to 1.04.

On the flip side of the game’s pitching excellence was less-than-stellar hitting.

The clubs combined for 13 hits – seven by Chillicothe – and seven bases on balls and one hit batsman doled out. However, of the 23 total baserunners – each side committed what proved to be an inconsequential error, only three set foot on home plate. While the Mudcats stranded a dozen runners, the Griffons, who never trailed, left eight aboard.

After missing a 2-on, none-out chance in the second, Nevada tallied the game’s initial marker in the fourth.

Braeden Hinton led off with a single up the middle, went to second on Tyler Davis’ 1-out infield hit to the left side, and sidled over to third with one out on Alba’s third and final walk. A bouncer to shortstop proved too slowly hit to produce anything more than a forceout at second base as Hinton broke the scoring ice.

In the Chillicothe starter’s last inning of work, he again was tagged for a leadoff single up the middle. Following a successful sacrifice, Jack Swisher took third on a wild pitch and, two deliveries later, scored from there on another. The wild pitches eventually proved irrelevant, however, as Hinton’s subsequent 2-outs single to right-center field would have plated Swisher had he still been at second.

The Mudcats followed a squandered 2-on, 1-out chance to grab the early lead in the top of the third by doing that one better – or worse – the next frame.

After Sears was plunked by a misaimed Kiel curveball to start the fourth of the still 0-0 game, Max Huntley’s second slow bouncer toward the second baseman in as many at-bats was fumbled, leaving Chillicothe runners at first and second with no outs.

The Nevada righthander’s next two pitches each delivered a routine out – one a foul popup and the other a pop fly to the left fielder in very shallow left. Then, after Jaxon Hotta waited out his second base on balls in as many plate appearances, Stewart’s sharp line drive was right at the left fielder, stranding three Fish.

After leaving Cox at third in the fifth and Huntley at second after a leadoff double in the sixth, Chillicothe finally nicked Kiel for a run in the seventh.

With one out, leadoff man Braedyn Brewer – seeing his first action since June 12, due to a leg injury – hit a fly ball to shallow right-center field that – perhaps aided by the twilight conditions at the time – fell uncaught by three Nevada fielders chasing it. On the move all the way, Brewer reached second with a stand-up double.

Cox, who had entered the game in the bottom of the fourth inning when starting right fielder Josh Swinehart sustained what appeared from a distance to be a nose injury as he unsuccessfully dove trying to catch a ball similar to Brewer’s double, quickly fell behind on the count 0-2, but got wood on the next offering and lined it cleanly past the second baseman for a hit that scored Brewer without a play.

The Nevada starting pitcher kept Cox right at first base while getting the second and third outs, then turned the game over to hard-throwing relievers Marhefke and Kirchner.

Although the former gave up a leadoff single to right by Huntley in the eighth, he then struck out the next three Mudcats to leave him at first. Kirchner’s work in the ninth, despite the bit of drama it initially engendered, closed out the guest Griffons’ “home” win.

Second baseman Zack Stewart of the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats college-level summer baseball team prepares to fire a throw to first base to complete a third-inning double play during the Mudcats' Monday, June 28, 2021, MINK League game against Nevada (Mo.). The twin killing was begun by third baseman Lucas Loos, who glove a 2-bouncer going to his left and threw to Stewart for the force play at second. Nevada eventually won, 2-1, in Chillicothe.

Chillicothe and Nevada concluded their regular-season play against each other with an even split. The Mudcats won the first two and the Griffons the last two.

Had late-arriving rain in Chillicothe turned Haney Field too wet to play on once Nevada had hit the highway for north Missouri, the contest would have been shifted north to Trenton’s Burleigh Grimes Field, Mudcats general manager Doug Doughty disclosed. Even without any of the preparatory work Haney Field required during the afternoon to get it into playing condition, the Trenton diamond was drier, he noted.

Statistically Monday night, the Nevada hill trio combined for 13 strikeouts, although four of the six hits Kiel yielded were doubles. The Mudcats’ pitchers gave up only six hits – all singles – and three walks while striking out nine men.

Offensively, Chillicothe got 2-hits games from Cox, Brewer and Huntley. Hinton led the Griffons with his 2-for-4 game.