That’s Swell, Sewell! Chillicothean Dazzles in Return to Mudcats to Cap Tuesday Sweep
2017 CHS grad, 2018 Mudcat fires shutout ball for five innings in 4-1 victory following 10-1 Fish feast in opener vs. Prospects
By PAUL STURM, C-T/LCL Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Chillicothe Mudcats pitchers might be auditioning for a collective role in a remake of or another sequel or prequel to the chilling thriller, “The Silence of the Lambs,” this time titled, “The Silence of the Bats.” And that’s not a reference to the creepy, silent mostly-nocturnal mammals.
No, the bats the ’Cats are muzzling are made of wood.
On “Chuck” Haney Field at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium Tuesday evening, five Chillicothe pitchers – primarily Game 1 starter Jake Young and Game 2 starter Tristen Sewell – extended the nearly-uninterrupted string of exceptional pitching performances by Mudcats pitchers to set the stage and pace for a quick 10-1, 4-1 MINK League doubleheader sweep of the visiting Peak Prospects from Des Moines, Iowa.
With Young using only 51 pitches to traverse five innings in the lidlifter and Sewell, the Chillicothe High School 2017 alumnus who toiled with the Mudcats in 2018, requiring only 58 to go the same distance, the Fish floated to their third and fourth victories in succession, a season-longest wins streak.
In the past eight games – stretched out over a 18-days period, mostly due to rain, Mudcats hurlers have held opponents to two runs or fewer six times and surrendered more than three only once. In the game they allowed three runs – last Saturday’s win at St. Joseph, only one of the runs was earned.
“Pitching has definitely set the tone,” Tyler Hudlow, Chillicothe rookie head coach, agreed with an interviewer’s observation in that regard following Tuesday’s twin wins, “… and it’s been multiple different guys.”
After Young (2-1) delivered his second excellent start in that stretch – blanking the Peak Prospects on a single hit to drop his season earned-run average to 3.81, southpaw Sewell’s ERA started the night at 0.00 since it was his first outing and ended the night still there after a walkless performance.
“It went a little better than I thought,” the Chillicothean admitted to the C-T in a post-game visit. “… I was able to just ‘pound the zone’ and (fielders) made plays behind me and I was able to last as long as I did.”
Hudlow, who in his capacity as an assistant coach at nearby North Central Missouri College observed Sewell first-hand during his 2018 spring at the Trenton junior college, could scarcely contain himself when discussing the matured hurler who just joined the Mudcats last week after completing some more Missouri National Guard service obligations.
“When he’s throwing strikes, he’s as tough as anybody to hit. He’s a lefty with natural movement,” the Chillicothe coach commented.
“His big thing has always been finding the strike zone with consistency. For him to go out and throw five shutout innings is awesome. … He’s definitely matured.”
The two triumphs over the first-year MINK League member which came to town tied with the Fish for third place in the league’s 4-teams North Division both allows the Mudcats to open a 2-games lead over the Iowans in that battle and pulls them within two games of idle second-place St. Joe, which will host Chillicothe in a 7 p.m. game Wednesday (July 8). If the Mudcats pick up a third victory in a row over the Mustangs in less than a week, they’ll pull within a game of second place – albeit far, far behind division leader Clarinda (Iowa) – at the league’s 1-day All-Star Game break.
Either right-hander Mitch Alba (0-1) or MINK All-Star left-hander Scott Duensing (1-0) figures to make the start on the hill for Chillicothe Wednesday.
Tuesday’s double-dip sweep might have had its turning point when the home team and Young were in danger of surrendering a slim 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning of the opener.
With Braedyn Brewer’s first of three infield hits in the game having plated Max Huntley before the Mudcats made their first out of the night, Young’s control suddenly short-circuited with two outs in the third.
Having retired eight of the nine Peak Prospects he faced through the first 2-2/3 innings – losing only one batter on a 4-pitches walk in the second, the righty battled one of the league’s best hitters, Anthony Toureallus, to a full count before walking him with two away in the third.
Then he again missed with four offerings in a row to the next man before a 5-pitches base on balls brought the Des Moines team’s cleanup batter to the plate with the sacks stuffed.
When the first two pitches to the Peak Prospects’ No. 4 man also were out of the strike zone, the situation was dire. However, after getting a called strike one, Young’s next delivery drew a swing and a high popup behind the mound. Although it might have been handled most easily by the second baseman, shortstop Blake Falor scurried onto the grass, calling for the ball. With his teammate staying away, Falor easily made the catch well on the right side of the diamond about 15 feet off the mound, ending the inning and keeping the shutout intact.
While that narrow escape buoyed the home team, its effect was a bit delayed.
However, after Peak Prospects starting right-hander Jacob Merithew struck out the first two Fish in the bottom of the third, he ran out of outs. Seven Chillicothe batters in succession reached safely, creating a 5-0 lead and forcing Merithew’s removal with the bases loaded. When the reliever wild-pitched home two more runs, Chillicothe had a stranglehold on the game.
The long rally commenced with another Brewer infield hit, this one a chopper over the pitcher’s mound. He moved up on Josh Swinehart’s walk and raced home on Lucas Loos’ sharp single through the left side on a 3-2 pitch.
Following another walk – this one to Tanner Sears, Merithew bounced a high pitch off Nick Cox’s helmet to force home another marker. Cox seemingly was not hurt.
Falor then pulled a bouncer between shortstop and the third baseman, bringing home two more runs for a 5-0 gap. When the Iowa team’s pitcher also plunked Jaxon Hotta, refilling the bases, he was pulled.
One wild pitch tacked on another run and, after Petey Taylor became the third Mudcat tagged with a delivery in a 4-batters stretch, another errant delivery eluded the Peak Prospects’ catcher and Falor slid home head-first just under the pitcher’s tag with the sixth run of the inning.
After Young hung another goose egg on the scoreboard, his teammates added on in the fourth.
One-out walks to Swinehart, Loos and Sears set up Cox for a RBI ground ball which the first baseman fielded close to the bag, but, after stepping on the base for a force-play-removing second out, threw home just too late to nab Swinehart. Loos moved to third on the play, letting him score on yet another wild pitch by the lefthanded Peak Prospects reliever.
Following a final scoreless inning by Young in the top of the fifth, the MINK League’s lack of a 10-runs-lead rule codicil for games due to last only seven innings meant the run Hotta scored and Brewer drove home in the bottom of the fifth only created a double-digits lead for the hosts, not ended the game early.
It was Chillicothe’s last run, however, while the Des Moines-area team averted the shutout with a run off a Chillicothe reliever in the sixth. When Englishman Myles Janson toed the slab in the seventh for the first time since June 17 and pitched a scoreless seventh, the Fish had, in 2:03, given themselves a chance to take two.
Thanks to Sewell’s, Janson’s, and Koby Linder’s arms and solid defense behind them, that opportunity was seized in an even-quicker 1:51 second contest.
After 2-1/2 scoreless innings, with Sewell showing maturity and poise he did not possess the last time he wore the uniform of his hometown’s college-level summer team, the hosts pounced an inning-starting miscue to take the lead.
A busted-bat, slow roller to the second baseman somehow was fumbled long enough for Falor to just beat the throw to first base leading off. A walk to No. 9 batter Zack Stewart followed and Peak Prospects starting pitcher Noah Stober was starting to take on water.
His predicament worsened with a wild pitch to advanced both runners, although he turned that into a moot point by walking leadoff man Max Huntley anyway to load the bases.
Brewer lifted a pop fly into shallow right field that didn’t hang up long enough for the right fielder to come in and make the play on. Instead, the second baseman ranged back to make the catch, but with his back partially to the infield and his momentum going away from the plate. Anticipating that possibility, Falor alertly tagged up and broke for home plate as the catch was made. The infielder’s spin and throw toward home, while accurate, lacked velocity and Falor slid home with the contest’s first run on a ball that carried only about 150 feet away from home.
With the Mudcats’ trailing runners also having advanced 90 feet after the catch and throw trying to nail Falor, Swinehart, owner of a pair of sacrifice flies three games earlier, once more elevated a drive to the outfield which assured Stewart would score.
However, in this instance, the Mudcat had driven the ball deep enough that it carried over the head of the Iowans’ left fielder for a 2-runs triple, making it 3-0, Chillicothe. The Western Michigan University junior-to-be’s fifth and sixth runs batted in during the past four games raised his second total to 18, second-most on the squad.
Getting a lead to protect seemed to relax Sewell further. He retired the side in order for the second time in the game in the next half-inning and confidently worked around a leadoff hit in the fifth, by which time his cushion had increased to four runs.
A leadoff walk to Sears, two wild pitches, and Stewart’s 2-outs, line-drive double just over the leaping third baseman’s leather in the fourth made it 4-0, Fish.
Even though his starting pitcher once more still was shy of 60 pitches thrown at the start of the sixth, Hudlow again replaced him, summoning tall right-hander Janson for a second appearance of the evening after three weeks off.
The Leicester, England, hurler was solid again, although a wild pickoff throw with two outs set up a run-scoring infield hit that ended the potential shutout.
“He’s going to be a big arm for us,” Hudlow said, still very supportive of Janson, who entered Tuesday’s play with a 20.77 ERA and exited at 14.21. “We just need to get him time on the mound.”
With a 3-runs margin heading to the seventh and final scheduled frame, Hudlow and pitching coach Pablo Ortiz marched the team’s top reliever, righty Koby Linder, to the hill to try to earn his second save and the team’s third of 2021. The Green Castle, Mo., hurler didn’t disappoint, striking out the first two men he faced before Falor closed the evening’s competition on a defensive high note by ranging in and to his right at shortstop to throw out a Peak Prospect for the last out.
“Hopefully we can keep this rolling and make a run into better (playoffs) seeding and then carry it on to the postseason.”
Statistically in Tuesday’s proceedings, Young’s five 1-hit scoreless frames and Sewell’s 0-walks, shutout ball through five were the big numbers, overshadowing Swinehart’s 3-for-3, 2-triples, 2-RBI nightcap. Swinehart walked twice and scored twice in game one, as well.
“He’s kind of matured as the summer went on,” Hudlow assessed the All-Star outfielder’s offense, “not expanding the zone. It just seems like, if we have a guy on third base with less than two outs, he’s going to find a way to get him in.”
Brewer also had a 3-hits night, all in game one.
Linder’s perfect inning in game two dropped his earned-run average to an even 1.00 in a team-most seven appearances.
Not only did Tuesday evening saddle the Iowa team with a pair of defeats and a return to the division cellar, but even had it as the victim of two “appeal-play” outs.
In the fourth inning of the opener, a 1-out fly ball to right field fooled the Peak Prospects baserunner at first base. Thinking it was going to carry beyond the reach of Mudcats right fielder Huntley, the runner dashed toward second and touched it before hearing the frantic call of his third-base coach to go back to first because the ball was being caught.
While Huntley’s hurried throw toward first base drifted into foul territory far enough for the runner to get back there fairly easily, as it turned out, the Chillicothe coaches in the third-base dugout had noticed the runner had touched second base only once as he braked there and turned to retreat. By rule, an advancing baserunner who touches a base, then needs or chooses to backtrack, must touch it a second time, even if he or she has not gone past the base.
Heeding the instructions of the coaches, first baseman Sears flipped the ball to shortstop Falor, who indicated to the nearby field umpire that the Mudcats were appealing the lack of “retouching.” The umpire immediately raised his right arm and fist in an “out” call, creating an inning-ending double play after all.
In a different scenario in the second game, the Peak Prospects not only lost an out, but a run.
With the game scoreless in the top of third, a 1-out double and follow-up single had men at the corners for the Des Moines club. The next batter then lashed a line drive right at left fielder Swinehart, who was positioned perhaps 200-220 feet from home plate.
He made the catch easily and quickly uncorked a strong throw toward home plate as the runner from third base tried to score. Because the throw carried just about three feet too far, the “in-between” fast hop it reached catcher Sears on caused him to have to lean backward a bit to glove it cleanly. Rocked off-balance, Sears needed an extra moment to halt his momentum and lean forward to try to apply the tag on the just-arriving runner. That momentary delay produced a “safe” call to the Chillicothe crowd’s brief dismay.
However, before Sears could even begin to issue any protest that his tag had been in time for the out, once more word came from the Mudcats’ dugout for the ball to be thrown to third base, appealing the runner had left the base just before the ball reached Swinehart.
Having been able to line himself up in foul territory to the third-base side of home plate as the ball sailed toward the Chillicothe outfielder, the plate umpire had had a clear, simultaneous view of both the runner at third and the catch. When the Mudcats appealed that the runner had not stayed tagged up until the ball was touched, the arbiter agreed, again signalling “out” after third sacker Payton Allen had accepted Sears’ flip and touched third base. Instead of taking a 1-0 lead, the Iowa team had three outs and no runs.
While not leading to any appeal, the Peak Prospects also had one other baserunning mishap that cost it another out, although that was likely was insignificant.
Trailing game one 10-0 in the top of the sixth inning, the visitors had men at first and third with one out when Kyle Berg pulled a high drive to relatively-deep right field which fell between Huntley and the line for a hit.
As the runner at third trotted home, the man at first – Patrick Norton – stayed within about 30 feet of that bag until the ball landed. As a result, by the time he accelerated toward second and rounded it, Huntley had the ball, prompting that runner to slow down, stop, and return to second.
Batter Berg, not having any concerns about having to go back to a base if the ball was caught, had dashed to first base and around it at full speed. When the ball dropped uncaught, he viewed it as a chance to get a double and remained headed toward second, only to get about two-thirds of the way there and find the preceding runner moving back there himself.
Rather than throwing toward third, Huntley fired the ball to first sacker Sears, who easily chased down the trapped Berg and tagged him for the inning’s second out.
The sequence almost turned out worse for the visitors when Norton actually drifted away from second toward third when Berg initially headed toward second as Sears started his pursuit. Even though he had ample time to get back as the batter-runner was diving to the ground to unsuccessfully try to elude Sears’ tag, Norton was standing about eight feet to the third-base side of second when his teammate was put out.
Not expecting that situation, it took a count or two for the Mudcats fielders to realize the chance to get another out and by the time Sears tossed the ball to Falor at the bag, the Peak Prospects runner had snapped out of his trance and dove back in, barely safe.