Offensive Malady No Better as Chillicothe Mudcats Lose Fourth Straight July 14

Visiting Sedalia limits Fish to four hits in first eight innings of 7-2 Bombers triumph

By PAUL STURM, C-T/LCL Sports Editor
Chillicothe Mudcats second baseman Blake Falor applies the tag on Sedalia baserunner Duffin Makings on a second-inning steal attempt during the teams' Wednesday (July 14, 2021) MINK League baseball game in Chillicothe. Sedalia won, 7-2.

By PAUL STURM, C-T/LCL Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — While the Chillicothe Mudcats pitching has not, since the 1-day MINK League All-Star Game pause, been what it was during the prior three weeks, the cause of the team’s abrupt reversal of fortunes on the heels of a 6-games winning streak at the start of July is clear-cut.

For the third time during a 4-games losing streak which continued Wednesday with a 7-2 home loss to Sedalia,  the Mudcats’ offense produced six or fewer hits and only occasionally generated a true scoring threat.

Two nights after being checked by St. Joseph pitchers on four hits and three after getting only two off a couple of Clarinda A’s hurlers, Chillicothe didn’t have multiple runners in an inning against Sedalia’s Bombers until the seventh. By then, the visitors held a 7-runs lead and easily repulsed the Mudcats’ attempts at getting back in the game in the seventh and ninth.

The consequence was a loss which, coupled with the North Division-leading A’s home doubleheader sweep of second-place St. Joseph, put Chillicothe (11-15, 10-15 MINK) on the cusp of mathematical elimination from the North title race. The next Mudcats’ loss or Clarinda victory would make it not just extremely improbable, but absolutely impossible for the Fish to win the division. As a practical consideration, of course, that’s been a logical presumption for some time.

Not only were the Mudcats pushed to the brink of elimination, but St. Joseph sank to a full 10 games behind the Iowa team in the North standings and had its “magic number” for mathematical extinction slashed to two, even though the regular season still had a week-and-a-half to go.

Clarinda’s two Wednesday wins left it a nearly-incomprehensible 24-1 in its last 25 overall games and an equally-astounding 25-3 in league play this season.

Chillicothe is slated to hit the pavement Thursday, returning to St. Joseph for its second game there in four nights.

Aided by the Mustangs’ non-success against Clarinda, the third-place Mudcats actually picked up a half-game in the standings on the Ponies Wednesday, although they were 3-1/2 games downstream. If the Fish hope to overtake St. Joseph for second place and earn the right to host the first-round game in the league playoffs in a couple of weeks, a victory Thursday is nearly mandatory.

If he’s physically available, the mound call for the critical game might go to Chillicothean Tristen Sewell, who last pitched on July 9 when he worked an inning in relief. However, he was not present for either of the club’s home losses to Clarinda and Sedalia Tuesday and Wednesday, hinting he might not be on Thursday either.

If he can’t go, the next-likeliest candidate is righthander Cole Mammenga, who opened that July 9 contest and threw four innings. He’s pitched briefly in relief once since then.

Wednesday’s Chillicothe defeat, for a second night in a row, came after its starting pitcher was nearly impregnable in the first several innings.

After Jake Young threw three hitless, scoreless innings while facing the minimum against the red-hot A’s, Mitch Alba, another right-hander, retired 12 of the first 13 Sedalia batters and threw out stealing the only one who reached via a 1-out walk in the second.

However, the Mudcats managed only two hits and three baserunners in that same time frame. They blew a first-inning scoring threat when Zack Stewart followed his leadoff single by inexplicably getting doubled off second on a sinking line drive to left field to end the inning.

Once Sedalia solved Alba (1-3) for its first hit in the fifth, it bull-rushed him to take control of the game.

That initial hit – Duffin Makings’ double up the alley in left-center field was followed by a single to center by Brett Mooney, breaking the scoring ice on a hot evening (game time temperature was 87 degrees with a heat index of 94).

A walk, a run-scoring single by big DH Jacob McWhirter that also sent a man from first to third, and a long, run-scoring fly ball to right staked Bombers starting pitcher Austin Droege to a lead at last.

After he protected it with a scoreless home fifth that produced another inning-ending double play – the second of three twin-killings Chillicothe hit into, the Sedalia bats raked new reliever Koby Linder over the coals in the sixth.

Linder, one of the Mudcats’ best pitchers all season, wasn’t in good form this time.

A single and double rapidly put two Bombers in scoring position and a wild pitch plated one of them. After a hit batsman, another sacrifice fly to right field made it 5-0, Sedalia.

A strikeout offered an avenue of escape from any further damage, but Linder couldn’t get merged over. Back-to-back singles – the latter by McWhirter – tacked on another tally and a wild, ill-advised throw on a slow grounder toward the hole at shortstop made it 7-0 after 5-1/2 innings.

When Droege’s gas tank hit empty as he went back to the hill for the bottom of the seventh, Chillicothe had a fleeting opportunity to put some mystery into the eventual outcome, but it didn’t last long.

The first two Mudcats batters in the seventh walked on four pitches each and lefthanded-hitting Greyson Barrett pulled a hard bouncer that caromed off the first base bag and past the Bombers’ first baseman down the right-field line for a run-scoring single, breaking up the budding shutout.

That prompted a pitching switch for the visitors and left-handed Bennett Brownfield answered the ball.

Inheriting runners at first and third with no outs, but also a 6-runs lead, he got Payton Allen, who was two for two off righty Droege, to bounce a ball up the middle that became an easy 6-3 double play even as Tanner Sears scored the second Mudcats run. Another groundout to short ended the once-promising inning with only relatively-minor damage.

Working around a 2-outs throwing error in the eighth inning, Brownfield handed over a 7-2 lead to righty Conner Wolf at the start of the home ninth. Wolf surrendered consecutive 1-out singles to Sears and Barrett, but before Chillicothe fans could really get their hopes of a big, last-chance rally up, a strikeout and a popup  to the left fielder barely onto the outfield grass behind shortstop rang down the curtain on the Mudcats’ fourth loss in a row.

Statistically, Sedalia out-hit Chillicothe 10-6 and had an additional six baserunners via hit batsman or walk. The Fish wangled only three walks. Each side erred once.

Individually, the Mudcats had two hits each from Allen and Barrett with the latter’s seventh-inning hit producing his team-most 25th run batted in of the season.

McWhirter was two for four with two runs knocked in and Zack Dillman two for three plus a walk with two runs scored for Sedalia (16-15, 16-15 MINK) as it moved a full game in front of Nevada atop the league’s South Division.

After entering the contest with a strong earned-run average of 1.50, Linder was ripped for five hits and four runs – three earned – while facing eight batters in his inning of work. That jacked his ERA up to a still-sharp 2.32.

For a second night in a row, normal middle infielder Blake Falor ended the game on the hill for Chillicothe. He also prospered in the unexpected role for a second-straight time, throwing two scoreless, 1-hit innings with two strikeouts and only one walk.

The night before against Clarinda, the St. Augustine, Fla., resident who attends Andrew College, fired a hitless, scoreless inning in that blowout loss.

Given the team’s even-busier schedule in the next several days, Falor figures to be turned to again, possibly in a higher-leverage situation.