Lightning Stops Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats Short of Sixth-Straight Win July 9

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News

By PAUL STURM, C-T/LCL Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Whether the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats’ MINK League baseball winning streak would grow to six games did not get fully decided Friday night, July 9. The Mudcats did, however, get a whisker up on that possibility.

The Chillicothe college-level, wood-bat team scored twice in the bottom of the sixth inning of their scheduled home game to take a 6-4 lead over the Jefferson City Renegades Friday just before lightning from an area thunderstorm system which ultimately never deposited a drop of rain on the town or field prompted a 55-minutes delay that segued into at least a 1-day suspension of the action.

As things worked out, had the decision been made to wait longer than just past 10 p.m. before terminating the game for the night, play could have resumed safely at around 11 p.m. and presumably the game concluded.

Instead, the Friday clash was reset to continue Saturday prior to the beginning of the regularly-scheduled single game. The initial plan was for the suspended contest to be resumed at 7:05 p.m., according to Mudcats general manager Doug Doughty, but with the caveat that, if circumstances permit or warrant it, that time could be shifted forward to 6:05 p.m.

A problematic weather forecast for Saturday left open the question whether any play would occur Saturday. With the Mudcats already having multiple prior postponements backlogged in the final three weeks of the regular season, the ultimate fate of the incomplete game and Saturday’s scheduled full game – if they cannot take place – is uncertain, giving a diminishing number of possible make-up dates.

Prior to Friday’s lightning interruption between the sixth and seventh innings, the game had seesawed back and forth, largely because of the Renegades’ repeated inability to capitalize on bases-full chances.

Although the visitors plated two runs each in the fourth and fifth innings – first taking a 2-1 lead and then tying the contest, they left three men aboard in both those frames, as well as in the second and sixth.

The Mudcats, while more economical as they scored once in the opening inning, three times in the fourth, and twice in the sixth, still had six stranded through six.

The game’s scoring started on a peculiar play in the home first.

With two outs and speedy Braedyn Brewer at first base, Mudcat Lucas Loos, a right-handed hitter, hit a pitch off the end of his bat right at the Renegades’ first baseman. However, instead of becoming an easy final out, as the ball first landed, the spin from coming off the end of the bat sent it back to the fielder’s right, rather than left or straight, as would have been expected.

The unanticipated twist sent the ball skipping past the first sacker and onto the outfield grass in short right field, allowing Brewer to head over to third base.

As the right fielder, having to come a long distance in from his original position, picked the ball up, his first thought was to make sure Loos didn’t try for second. As he threw the ball there, Mudcats head and third-base coach Tyler Hudlow correctly anticipated that and waved for Brewer to keep running. Zipping around third without breaking stride, the bold attempt caught Jefferson City’s middle infielders off-guard and their belated throw to home plate was much too late to deny Brewer and the Fish the run.

Making his first start of the season on the mound, Cole Mammenga managed to put up three zeroes before back-to-back doubles beginning the fourth tied the score. After a groundout, a single to center field gave the Renegades the lead.

When the visitors left the bases full for a second time, the hosts used that momentum to fashion a quick comeback.

With a 2-outs single by Blake Falor moving Tanner Sears, who’d also singled leading off, to second, a walk to Payton Allen gave leadoff man Zack Stewart a chance to bat. He delivered, bouncing a sharp hit through the left side to score two with Allen aggressively speeding to third and Stewart moving into second as the late throw toward home plate was cut off.

Allen’s reaching third paid dividends when Brewer’s bouncer that the lunging third baseman gloved to his left, but could not get back to his feet in time to throw out the batter, upped the Mudcats’ margin to 4-2.

When Mammenga handed out his fifth free pass to the leadoff Renegade in the fifth, Chillicothean Tristen Sewell was brought to the mound in relief.

Not as sharp as in his 5-innings, scoreless start three nights before, Sewell allowed hits – some only softly hit – to the first three batters he faced. However, on the last one, the runner from second base got a very bad break from there and was easily cut down on a relay from right fielder Josh Swinehart to first baseman Sears to catcher Jaxon Hotta.

A hit batter then reloaded the bases and, after a strikeout, a walk on a close, full-count delivery knotted the game at 4-4. A great stretch by Sears to keep the toe of his right shoe on the base as he gloved Allen’s throw from deep short provided an escape with the game still tied.

After a scoreless bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth, the Mudcats reclaimed the lead against a Renegades reliever.

Hotta worked a leadoff walk, but the next two men were retired, although an errant pickoff throw by the Jeff City catcher did move his counterpart up to second base with one out.

With two out, Stewart hit a grounder the third baseman fielded going to his left, but the throw to first was wide to the home plate side and sailed to the barrier in foul territory. That let Hotta score the go-ahead run easily.

Brewer then made the visitors’ fourth error of the game doubly costly, ripping a deep drive over the left fielder’s head for a double that scored Stewart without a throw.

After the inning’s final out was recorded, an examination by the umpires and Mudcats management personnel of the storm clouds to the north and the lightning they were generating prompted the halt of play at 9:12 p.m. At 10:07, the umpires, Mudcats management personnel, and Renegades head coach Mike DeMilia reached agreement to not wait any longer to see if play could safely resume.

When the stoppage of play arrived, Chillicothe was in front despite being out-hit 9-6 and having handed out eight walks and two hit batsmen.

Individually, Brewer already was two for four with two runs driven in. Jefferson City was down despite having three players with two hits apiece and another who had walked three times in four plate appearances.

By not finishing the game, the Renegades actually climbed into a tie for first place in the MINK League’s ultra-balanced, if not overly-successful, South Division, thanks to Joplin’s loss at Nevada.

As the sun rose Saturday, each of the South squads owned a losing record in league play with Jeff City (12-13) and Joplin (11-12) tied for first place with Sedalia (12-14), beaten by St. Joseph Friday night, a half-game back. Nevada’s victory put it at 11-14, one game behind the co-leaders.

Prior to the game, Mudcats head coach Hudlow disclosed that, even though he’d participated in the league’s All-Star Game at Jefferson City the night before, infielder/outfielder Max Huntley had notified him he was heading home to Kalamazoo, Mich., and would not return to the team.

The product of Western Michigan U. in his hometown was batting .275 while playing virtually every day.  He was third on the team in runs batted in (12), stolen bases (five), was tied for third in total hits (19), and fourth in runs scored (13).

He’s the second productive hitter to leave the team in just over a week. Wes Brandsgaard chose to conclude his playing career to focus on his educational track for his planned career in the medical field.

Hudlow also acknowledged that, apparently, pitcher Kale Harris, who commuted to home games from his New Franklin, Mo., home, has decided not to continue his involvement with the club, as well.

In part because of his ineffectiveness and partly because of the multiple rainouts the latter part of June, Harris had thrown in only two games. He had allowed five runs – all earned – in 2-1/3 innings for a 19.29 earned-run average, walking seven and hitting another while giving up only two hits. He last saw game action June 7.

Although several days later than originally-projected, Hudlow said Friday recently-recruited right-handed pitcher Dustin Gipson from North Central Missouri College, where Hudlow’s an assistant coach, and Hudlow’s home town of Harrisburg, Mo., now is expected to report for duty Saturday.