First-Inning Errors Lead to Fifth Defeat in Row for Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats

Two errors cause three unearned St. Joseph runs in 5-3 Mustangs victory

As reported to C-T/LCL

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — How about the good news first?

Despite additional rainfall in Chillicothe Thursday morning (July 15), the Chillicothe Mudcats thankfully didn’t see their scheduled MINK League baseball game postponed. That was because it was to be played at St. Joseph, where there reportedly was less rain and where the game site – Phil Welch Stadium – has a large tarpaulin which had been in place to protect the infield portion of the diamond.

As for the game action against the host Mustangs, Chillicothe pitchers Tristen Sewell and Joe Shapiro shut out the home team on a mere five hits from the second inning on. Also, the Mudcats outscored St. Joe 3-0 from the second inning through game’s end.

Lastly, the Fish remained 2-1/2 games ahead of the Peak Prospects of Des Moines, Iowa, in the battle to claim the third and final North Division league-playoffs berth as they head into a burst of three games in a row against the Iowa team Friday (at home) and Saturday (doubleheader at Des Moines.

Alas, there also was bad news from Thursday’s Chillicothe game.

The worst was that, prior to the stellar stretch of mound work by starter Sewell and reliever Shapiro, St. Joseph had posted five runs – three unearned – in the first inning, giving it a quick 5-0 lead. When all the Mudcats mustered in response was a trio of third-inning tallies, the Mustangs had a 5-3 victory that expanded their lead over Chillicothe in the chase for second place in the North to daunting 4-1/2 games.

Also in the “negatives” column on Thursday’s baseball balance sheet was the fact that two of the only 10 non-pitchers Mudcats head coach Tyler Hudlow has had to maneuver with the past week were not available for the contest.

With injured infielder Zack Cox not eligible to resume playing until Monday after going into post-concussion protocol July 10, the absence of Blake Falor (dealing with the investigation of the theft of his wallet earlier in the day, the coach disclosed to the C-T) and Payton Allen (ill) required Hudlow to utilize a pitcher at either a defensive position (other than pitcher) or designated hitter in his starting nine.

He chose the latter and inserted the previous night’s starting pitcher, Mitch Alba, into the role, understandably batting ninth. After fanning his first two times up, Alba did manage to ground out to the third baseman in the eighth inning.

However, as if that wasn’t enough of a hardship, starting catcher Jaxon Hotta exited the game after the opening inning, due to an ankle injury, forcing the use of another pitcher to play a fielding position and bat.

That assignment fell to Myles Janson. While handling the defensive chores of first base without incident as Tanner Sears shifted from there to behind the plate in Hotta’s stead, the big Brit predictably struck out in each of his four at-bats.

At least Janson and Alba had loads of company in going down on strikes multiple times.

Three nights after Mustang Mack Stephenson and two relievers combined to whiff 15 Mudcats batters in a 7-3 triumph at Welch Stadium, Thursday’s St. Joseph winning pitcher Matt Fred dished out 16 Ks in going the distance. Three “regular” position players for Chillicothe joined the two emergency-use pitchers in being fanned at least twice.

The defeat – the Mudcats’ fifth-straight immediately on the heels of a 6-games winning streak that had gotten them back to the .500 mark – left Chillicothe (11-16, 10-16 MINK) continuing to spiral downward, record-wise. In fact, it was officially eliminated from the division-title chase when runaway leader Clarinda (Iowa) shut out the Peak Prospects 4-0 at virtually the same time the Mudcats’ 2:27 loss wrapped up. Either outcome would have mathematically eliminated the Fish.

Even though it won, St. Joseph – 10 games back of Clarinda – had its “magic number” for elimination trimmed to two.

The first of the five remaining Chillicothe-Peak Prospects contests will start tonight (Friday) at 7:05 p.m. at “Chuck” Haney Field in “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium. The teams then will square off twice, starting at 5 p.m., Saturday at Boone, Iowa’s, Memorial Park Ball Field. 

As previously noted, Thursday’s battle at St. Joseph compacted all of its scoring into two half-innings.

In his second start of the season, Chillicothean Sewell set down the leadoff man in the bottom of the first, but surrendered three hits and a walk among the next four Mustangs – Ike Book’s bases-full single making it 2-0.

An error in fielding that hit in the outfield allowed non-speedy Sean O’Malley to move on to third base, from where he scored on a groundout. A wild pitch then let Book dart home for a 4-0 lead.

Another outfielder’s error – this time a drop of a fly ball to left field – advanced the next batter to second. Following a single that pushed him to third, Jaxon Himell scored on another wild pitch by Sewell, putting the visitors in a 5-0 hole after one.

The local lefty deserved a much-better fate, however. If the Book basehit had been fielded cleanly, forcing O’Malley to pull up at second base, the succeeding ground ball on which he actually scored would have, at best, moved him to third where he would have been stranded if the fly ball to left was snagged.

Although there’s no guarantee the game would have played out the same way had the defense limited to St. Joseph to only the two runs it deserved in the first, had that been all they got and if Chillicothe got its three earned runs in the third, the game at least would have been sent to a bottom of the ninth inning with the Mudcats in front, 3-2.

Exhibiting his improved maturity and ability to keep calm, Sewell forced the Mustangs to waste a pair of 2-outs hits in the second and kept piling up the zeroes the rest of the way.

After being tagged for four hits in the opening inning, he gave up only two in his last five frames before fellow southpaw Joe Shapiro also denied the home club in the seventh and eighth.

Although their recent offensive struggles did not offer a lot of hope of overcoming a 5-runs deficit – even with eight innings to try to do it, the Mudcats’ third inning sparked legitimate hope they might come back and win.

With Fred having struck out five of the first seven Chillicothe batters in the game, a chink in his armor was created by second baseman Petey Taylor’s leadoff hit in the third. With one out, Zack Stewart was hit by a pitch and Braedyn Brewer drew a walk, loading the bases for the team’s top two run producers this season.

However, before Josh Swinehart got much of a chance to try to solve Fred, an error in judgment by Taylor when the St. Joe catcher fired a pickoff throw to the first baseman, trying to get Brewer, turned into the inning’s second out. Taylor started for home plate when the throw went to first, but realized he’d not make it safely. As he tried retreating to third, O’Malley cut him down.

Facing the prospect of not getting any runs out of the threat, the Fish persevered.

Swinehart stroked a basehit that drove Stewart in from second for his 24th RBI and sent Brewer to third. Greyson Barrett then ripped a single that not only plated Brewer, but Swinehart, as well, bumping Barrett’s team-leading RBI total to 27, tied for second-most in the league.

Even though the third out was recorded during the next at-bat, Chillicothe had come through in the clutch with three 2-outs runs, heightening hope it could erase the rest of the deficit some time in the next six innings, but Fred prevented it. He allowed only two more hits over the last six innings while piling up 10 more strikeouts.

Statistically, Fred limited Chillicothe to six hits and three walks while blanking them.

Sewell (1-1) was less overpowering, but just as effective after being shaky at the start. He struck out only four in his six innings, but issued only three walks and surrendered six hits, the same as Fred.

With his two scoreless innings, Shapiro shaved his already-microscopic earned-run average to 0.55. He’s been in nine games, allowing one earned run (in his first outing) across 16-1/3 innings.

Offensively Thursday, Chillicothe’s Barrett and St. Joseph’s Book each knocked in a pair of runs to pace their respective squads. Book now has a team-high 25 runs batted in.

Multi-hits games were produced by Swinehart, O’Malley, and Mustangs Michael Paule and Jake Grauberger. All of them had a pair of safeties.