Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats Likely to Finish Third in MINK League North After 5-3 Loss at St. Joseph July 21
Fish now trail Mustangs by three games with five to play
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Albeit not of their own accord, the 2021 Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats on Wednesday night moved to only a step away from being certain they’ll get to be part of next week’s MINK League baseball playoffs, even as, by their own performance, they made it almost certain most, if not all, of their postseason play would be on the road.
What still likely would have been an uphill battle for the Mudcats to finish in second place in the final regular-season standings of college-level, wood-bat league effectively became an unlikely mountain climb when they fell to the host St. Joseph Mustangs, the team they are trying to overtake, 5-3. The loss pushed the winners back to three games in front of Chillicothe.
Even with getting an overall fine starting-pitching performance from a middle infielder pressed into service to start on the hill in one of the most-critical games of the season, the Mudcats didn’t get their offense in gear until they trailed 5-0 in the eighth inning.
After generating three runs with four hits and a walk at the start of the eighth, Chillicothe failed – for the second time in the game – to get a runner home from third base with less than two outs.
Then, in the ninth, a 1-out single by starting pitcher-turned-designated hitter Payton Allen and a 2-outs St. Joseph error seemingly was going to give one or two of the league’s top-3 runs producers a chance to bat with the potential tying runs on base. However, after Braedyn Brewer’s ground ball eluded a Mustangs infielder and rolled into shallow center field, Allen tried to go from first base to third on the boot, but was thrown out to leave Josh Swinehart (29 RBI) waiting to step into the batter’s box and league RBI co-leader Greyson Barrett (32) hoping to hit behind him. For the game, those two were a combined three for eight with the three Fish runs driven in.
Commencing the game trailing second-place St. Joe by two games in the league’s North Division standings with about a half-dozen games left, the Mudcats still would have needed help to overtake the defending league champs, even had they won at Phil Welch Stadium.
It was a dependent position of, to a degree, their own choosing.
Two nights earlier at home, after a thrilling, 13-innings walk-off victory over Joplin in the first game of a doubleheader of scheduled 7-innings games, knowing every victory likely would be needed to overtake St. Joseph, the team management opted to sit out virtually all of the team’s position players in the second contest, utilizing pitchers as batters and defensive position players at all but two spots, even though the Mudcats had the next day off from game play. Meanwhile, Joplin, heading on to Sedalia for an important game in its division race the next evening, put largely its same lineup from the first game back on the diamond.
Even though the game was up for grabs right to the finish, with nearly all of the Chillicothe position players and normal hitters remaining in the dugout, Joplin gained a 3-1 victory. That meant, even with St. Joseph losing to runaway division champ Clarinda, Iowa, Tuesday, the Mudcats remained two games back of the Ponies prior to traveling to St. Joe Wednesday.
Had Chillicothe, with the momentum and emotional high of Barrett’s game-1-winning, walk-off homer, captured the nightcap from the Outlaws Monday, they’d have been only a game back of the Mustangs and had their second-place fate in their own hands as they took the field at Welch Stadium. A victory would have tied the standings, but also given the Mudcats the tiebreaker upper hand, due to winning the season series from St. Joe 4-2.
Their chances of passing the Mustangs now very, very slim, particularly they still have to face nearly-impregnable Clarinda at least twice more on Friday and Saturday (possibly Sunday, as well), the Mudcats will make the long, long trip to Boone, Iowa (about 45 minutes northwest of Des Moines), to play a 5 p.m. doubleheader against the Peak Prospects Thursday.
Five games ahead of that Iowa team with only five games left to play, a Chillicothe victory in either game will clinch no worse than third place and the final playoffs-qualifying berth in the North Division. Even a sweep by the host Des Moines-based team would likely only delay the likely inevitable, since the Prospects must win out in their last five and have the Mudcats lose their last five to create a tie.
Wednesday Chillicothe-St. Joseph game saw Allen, who had made only three mound appearances – all in relief – previously and with dubious results, selected to toe the rubber at game’s start. Had one, first-inning fielding chance been made, he might have delivered a huge performance; as it was, he produced a very, very clutch effort that kept his team right in the game despite a lack of Mudcats scoring.
After his teammates could not get Zack Stewart home from third base after drew a game-starting walk and stole both second and third bases with one out, Allen bounced back from surrendering a leadoff single in the home first with a strikeout and tap out to third.
With a runner at second and two outs, burly, righthanded-hitting St. Joseph first baseman Sean O’Malley, a relatively-slow runner, bounced a ball down the first-base line. Whether the ball hit the base and took an odd bounce, hit near-enough to hit to make inexperienced first baseman Tanner Sears uncertain what direction the ball would go, or if the fielder just couldn’t quite track the ball into the leather, the slow bouncer somehow ended up going past Sears and down the right-field line. That not only allowed the runner from second to score, but O’Malley to move up to second before the ball came in from the outfield as St. Joseph took the lead.
After a wild pitch advanced O’Malley to third, Ike Book’s 2-strikes single scored him, making it 2-0. Without the wild pitch, it’s possible the slow O’Malley might have been stopped at third, where the inning-ending popup to Stewart in short right field would have stranded him.
Those two unmade plays and extra bases ultimately were a difference in the game, although, had St. Joseph not scored in the first, there is no guarantee the rest of the game would have played out as it did.
As it was, Allen didn’t let the “could have beens” of the opening inning frustrate him.
Instead, even as the Chillicothe lineup missed an even-greater scoring chance in the top of the second – loading the bases with one out, but not scoring – and then was completely subdued by winning pitcher Drake Kanallakan from the third through the seventh, Allen pitched around six Mustangs hits and out of several jams while keeping the Ponies stuck on two runs from the second through the sixth inning.
At 81 pitches through six and a majority of them in high-stress situations, the bottom of the seventh brought the inevitable and necessary pitching change. The choice to enter was big righthander Myles Janson, who had blanked St. Joseph on four hits over five innings on July 12 (in a game the Mudcats already trailed and lost 7-3) and had not given up an earned run in his last five outings.
However, he had not thrown in a game in a week and big, young relievers like the 6’6”, 240-pounder from Leicester, England, often seem to have difficulty maintaining their mechanics and, thus, control, when not used every few days. As a case in point, Janson’s string of five successful outings had come with no more than three idle days between them (although the first one came after a nearly-3-weeks break).
Immediately upon entering the 2-0 game in the bottom of the seventh, it was clear Janson did not have command of the strike zone.
He walked the first batter he faced on four pitches and followed that with another 4-pitches free pass. Those were the only two walks given to the Ponies on the night.
After a wild pitch sent those men to second and third, a Brady Holden single to center field on a full-count offering doubled the Mustangs’ lead to 4-0, still with no outs.
After a hit batsman put two on again, O’Malley bounced into a double play with Holden taking third. He waltzed home from there with the third run of the inning when Book slashed a long, opposite-field double to left.
Although Koby Linder came on in place of Janson to get the last out, the Chillicothe chances of coming back had taken a major blow.
Sure enough, when the 5-0 lead and Kanallakan’s pitch count being at 98 convinced Mustangs head coach Johnny Coy to turn the game over to his bullpen, the Mudcats’ lineup perked up.
Allen, who – under college rules – had been switched over to the designated hitter’s role when he stopped pitching, led off against familiar St. Joe reliever Will Hann, who was appearing against Chillicothe for a fourth time, with a single.
Stewart worked a 5-pitches walk and Brewer singled to left field on the first pitch to load the bases for Swinehart. He pounced on a too-good 1-2 pitch for a single to left field, plating Allen and Stewart, bringing Barrett and his six home runs – three of them in the previous four games – and 31 runs batted in for the year to the plate.
Representing the tying run, the Californian did get the long ball he’d have liked, but his drive to right-center field did “find grass” for a run-scoring single. Swinehart had to stop at second base as Brewer narrowed the deficit to 5-3.
With Hann having failed to retire anyone, the ball was handed to Brady Loving, a recent addition to the St. Joseph staff, who immediately quieted things.
A well-struck fly ball by Sears let Swinehart tag and take third base, a potentially-key 90 feet with only one out. However, the advance proved inconsequential as Loving struck out the next two Mudcats to strand the tying runs.
After a baserunning mistake by St. Joseph in the ninth cost it an excellent chance to tack on more runs, Allen solved Loving for a 1-out single in the ninth. After the reliever’s fourth “K” in six batters faced, Brewer hit a grounder which figured to be the final out on either a force play or throw to first to retire the batter.
The play did generate the game-ending out, all right, but only after being booted for the contest’s only error. To the home team’s gratitude, instead of Swinehart (two hits) and possibly Barrett getting cracks at tightening things, the duo and the Mudcats wer left to wonder what might have been.
Statistically, Book’s and Sam Kissane’s three hits apiece led the 12-hits St. Joseph attack. Book and Holden each knocked in two and leadoff man Cole Slibowski went two for four plus a walk and scored twice.
Chillicothe’s offense was topped by Swinehart’s two hits and two RBI. Allen finished two for four.
Pitching-wise, Kanallakan dazzled with seven innings of 2-hits, shutout ball, although he did walk three and hit one. Loving got the save for two innings of 1-hit, scoreless relief with four strikeouts.
Allen’s numbers on the mound also were very good – two runs in six innings with no walks or hit batsmen. He did give up eight hits – all singles – in dropping his first pitching decision.