Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats Take Two of Three in Key Weekend MINK League Baseball Set

After walks provide walk-off win at home Friday, July 16, split doubleheader in Iowa Saturday, strengthen hold on third, final playoffs berth

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Trevor Kardell, a part-time member of the 2021 Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats college-level summer baseball team while also being a member of the University of Kansas football team, makes contact on a ninth-inning single that helped carry the Fish to a 2-runs inning that pulled out a 5-4 Chillicothe victory Friday, July 16. It was Kardell's third hit of the game.

An early-weekend trilogy with the team they have to beat out to secure a berth in the upcoming MINK League baseball playoffs didn’t cement the Chillicothe Mudcats position in the league’s North Division standings, but it did solidify them to a noteworthy degree.

Host the Peak Prospects from Des Moines in a Friday night game and then journeying to remote Boone, Iowa, about 45 minutes northwest of Des Moines in central Iowa, for a doubleheader Saturday, the Mudcats managed to successfully bookend the action.

On Friday night at home, twice an out, a pitch away from a sixth-consecutive loss following six consecutive victories, the Chillicothe Mudcats completed an important 5-4 comeback victory over the visiting Peak Prospects when Zack Stewart and Payton Allen each accepted full-count, bases-loaded walks with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning for a literal “walk-off” win.

Then, after letting an early 3-1 lead fade into a 7-5 loss in Saturday’s opener, Mudcats bats made their loudest noises in a long time in the final three innings of an 11-3 triumph.

Having begun the trio of head-to-head showdowns 2-1/2 games in front of the first-year league member from the Des Moines baseball academy, Chillicothe emerged 3-1/2 games up with only two games between the clubs remaining on the schedule – Tuesday back at Boone.

Because of the curveball all MINK League teams had thrown at them on Friday (July 16), when league officials announced South Division member Nevada was finished competing for the season, due to quarantining requirements following at least one of the Griffons testing positive for COVID-19.

As a consequence of Nevada shuttering for the summer, the other three teams in its division automatically will fill the division’s three playoff berth, although in what order remains very uncertain, due a tight race.

The North Division also will feel the impact because four of the Griffons’ 10 canceled games – they will not be deemed forfeits, league president Ky Turner and commissioner Ron Rodriguez confirmed for the C-T Saturday – were to have been against North clubs (two each with already-certified division champ Clarinda, Iowa, and two with second-place St. Joseph).

By virtue of St. Joseph’s loss to Sedalia Saturday and Chillicothe’s split with the Peak Prospects, the Mudcats stood 3-1/2 games behind the Mustangs with two games between them – the first in Chillicothe Sunday afternoon, July 18, at 5:05 p.m.

Although, at his point (following July 17 play), the odds seem against the Ponies’ two unplayed games with Nevada being at least a partial determinant in whether the Mudcats catch them, neither would that rate as a remote possibility.

With either a bit less base-running bravado or better defense, Chillicothe might have “run the table” in their set of three games against the Iowa club in about 28 hours.

By the same token, the Mudcats very easily could have emerged from them with a narrowing 1-1/2 games margin over the league newcomer.

On Friday night on “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium’s “Chuck” Haney Field, the Mudcats never led until the game-ending, outcome-reversing, consecutive, full-count free passes to Stewart and Allen plucked victory from the jaws of defeat.

Given that reprieve, Chillicothe briefly trumped a Peak Prospects solo home run in the first inning with three runs in the top of the third. Then, after another solo shot by the home team made it 3-2 in the bottom of the third, the Prospects plated three runs in the fourth – only one earned – to move in front.

The Mudcats’ pursuer then supplemented another earned marker with a third unearned one of the game to seize a 7-3 advantage after five innings.

However, in the top of the seventh and final frame, 3-straight singles by Petey Taylor, Stewart and Allen cut the deficit to three with one away and brought the potential tying run to the batter’s box. That possible equalizer then got on base via a low throw to second on a force-play attempt.

With the bases loaded and speedy Braedyn Brewer carrying the possible game-tying run at first base, the Mudcats’ most-prolific run producer of the month, Josh Swinehart, owner of three home runs on the season, stepped in to take his hacks. With plenty enough power to reach the relatively-cozy fences of the high school-sized field on which the game was played, Chillicothe had the chance – with only one out – to make things very tight with nothing more than a single and even take the lead with one swing of the bat.

Swinehart did indeed make good contact and hit the ball into the air in the outfield, but not only didn’t he knock the ball out of the park, his fly-ball out led to the game’s end without cleanup man Tanner Sears getting a chance to follow Swinehart to the dish.

After the Peak Prospects’ left fielder caught the Swinehart fly ball for the inning’s second out, Stewart at third base dashed for home plate as the outfielder made an ill-conceived throw there, rather than throwing it to a cutoff man to make sure Brewer, carrying the tying run, remained as far from home plate as possible.

When the throw went through to the plate, Allen tagged up at second and headed toward third base, a risky play that, if successful, would either also allow Brewer to move into scoring position at the same or, by having it vacant, give him the chance to steal it as Sears batted.

Although the Des Moines-based team unwisely let the throw go all the way to home plate, doing so lured Allen to go ahead and try to make third, rather than stopping and returning to second.

Because he had to remain close enough to second to get back there if the throw was cut off near the pitcher’s mound, Allen had too much distance to cover and not enough time, it turned out. When the throw arrived too late at home plate, the catcher calmly gloved it and fired the ball back to third base in time to cut down Allen for the game-ending out.

While aggressive baserunning often has paid dividends for the Mudcats through their season, this time, they paid the penalty, although coming back from the 4-runs deficit at the start of the last inning was a long-shot anyway.

Rather than feel downcast about falling short in the first game, the Mudcats led throughout the nightcap, eventually using a big final inning to score in double digits for the first time in their last eight contests.

While starting and winning pitcher Logan Snow (2-2) somehow dodged the fallout from six walks, a hit batsman, and two hits to keep the Prospects off the scoreboard through the first five innings, Chillicothe was easing out to a 5-0 lead.

Greyson Barrett’s team-high fifth home run of the season – his first in virtually a month (June 19 at Jefferson City) – put a run on the Mudcats’ side of the scoreboard leading off the second inning.

A leadoff walk to Stewart in the third became a run as Trevor Kardell bounced into a bases-full double-play.

In the fifth, Stewart led off with a hit, went to third on Brewer’s double to left, and sauntered home on Swinehart’s single to left, his 26th run batted in of the year – fourth-most in the MINK League.

After Brewer pulled up after rounding third base, a lackadaisical handling of the ball as it came in from the outfield led to him re-starting his engine and dashing across the plate, as well. 

The mental blunder was rendered moot when Kardell followed with a hit to center field that would have plated Brewer anyway while pushing Swinehart up to second, still with no outs.

That changed quickly, however, when the Iowa team rolled its third 6-4-3 double play in four innings while Swinehart moved to third. He then made it 5-0, Fish, by scoring when Barrett dunked a hit into short right. Coupled with his solo homer earlier in the game, it gave him 27 RBI for the year, tied for second-most in the league and four back of leader Travis Welker of Clarinda.

The 5-runs spread still was in place as the bottom of the sixth inning commenced, but Snow showed signs of a meltdown with back-to-back bases on balls to start the inning.

Trying head the Des Moines team off before it got too much momentum, Chillicothe head coach Tyler Hudlow and pitching coach Pablo Ortiz opted to bring Blake Falor to the mound from his spot at second base.

Appearing with a lead for the first time in his three recent outings, Falor got a line-drive out and popup from the first two batters he faced before loading the sacks with a hit by pitch.

Two consecutive sacks-jammed walks forced two more A’s runners home, breaking the scoring ice and bringing the potential go-ahead run to the dish. Fortunately for his team, Falor regained his control and earned a 4-pitches strikeout to keep it a 5-2 game after six.

With that challenge, Chillicothe batters responded emphatically, parading a dozen batters to the plate in the top of the seventh as they posted another six runs. The first eight hitters reached base safely with Brewer capping that long string of success with a 2-runs single.

Although the Peak Prospects nicked final Fish hurler Sears for a sacrifice fly, he got the team headed for the bus and the approximately 4-hours journey back to Chillicothe owning a split of the twinbill.

On the evening Saturday, the Mudcats got five hits from Allen and two RBI each from Sears, Brewer, Swinehart and Barrett.

The night before at home, with the Mudcats on the brink of – for a second-straight inning – failing to cash in after loading the bases with no outs in the ninth, Falor’s long (nine pitches), though unsuccessful, 1-out battle with second Peak Prospects relief pitcher Cooper Johnson helped tax the Iowan’s hurler to the point that he then forced home the tying run on a 3-2 delivery to Stewart and, finally, lost a 7-pitches duel with Allen to end the MINK League contest as a Chillicothe conquest.

Earlier, Sears’ booming triple to the wall in right-center field and Lucas Loos’ sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth cut into the Peak Prospects’ early 3-0 lead.

The next inning, 1-out walks to Allen and Brewer were followed by Swinehart’s double to right-center, scoring both runners and tying things at 3-3.

It stayed that way until the ninth when relief pitcher Trae Brownell, appearing for the first time since June 9, compounded a leadoff walk with a wild pickoff-attempt throw. Those extra 90 feet let that man score on a double to deep left by Patrick Norton, breaking the 3-3 tie, but Loos’ strong throw to third base after snaring a fly ball to medium right cut down Norton to make sure the Mudcats’ deficit was only a run going to the bottom of the ninth.

In what would turn into an important play in the bottom half of the inning, 2021 Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats third baseman Payton Allen prepares to tag out Patrick Norton of the Peak Prospects of Des Moines, Iowa, to complete a double play in the top of the ninth of the teams' July 16 game in Chillicothe. Norton, who had just doubled in the go-ahead run, was trying to advance after the catch of a fly ball by right fielder Lucas Loos. By erasing Norton, the Fish kept it a 1-run game, which allowed 2-outs, bases-full walks to Zack Stewart and Allen to give the hosts a 5-4 come-from-behind victory.

After loading the bases with no outs in the eighth, only to hit into consecutive forceouts at home plate and then an inning-ending comebacker to new reliever Johnson, the Mudcats nearly repeated that scenario the next segment.

Taylor and Sears waited out inning-starting walks and Trevor Kardell fought off an inside pitch to loop a hit into short right-center field. A bit surprisingly, Taylor was held at third base by Hudlow and that nearly became costly.

Johnson delivered consecutive strikeouts to be on the brink of escaping again, but the fight Falor put up through nine offerings – including three fouled pitches in a row on 3-2 counts – sapped the Iowa team’s hurler enough that, although he came close, he could not get either Stewart or Allen as the Mudcats pulled the clutch win out of the fire.

Statistically Friday, three double-digits numbers for the home team leap off the scorebook page.

They snatched away the triumph despite leaving 15 runners on base (including the three aboard when the game ended) and striking out 14 times, compared to the Prospects’ one whiff. 

The Mudcats won despite being out-hit 8-7 in no small part because of the third dual-digits stat – 13 walks received.

Kardell, the big first baseman available to the team only on weekends, due to his involvement with the University of Kansas football team during the week, led all hitters with three hits in five at-bats.

Chillicothe starting pitcher Cole Mammenga tiptoed through considerable traffic, giving up seven hits and walking three in 5-2/3 innings, but was tough in the clutch and allowed only one earned run among the three overall.

Lefthander Joe Shapiro again was very effective in a brief relief appearance. He threw 1-1/3 hitless, scoreless innings after replacing Mammenga with two on in the sixth. His already-superb earned-run average dipped even lower to 0.50 across 17-2/3 innings and 10 appearances this summer.