The veteran Wingnuts’ turn through the batting order was complete, and their younger players were going to decide Friday’s game against the Kansas City T-Bones.
The winning run stayed on first base as rookies Colt Loehrs and David Amberson made the final two outs to give Kansas City a 5-4 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The rookies missed their first chance to deliver their first difference-making hits, but as Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper sees it, that only makes them more likely to come through next time.
That’s why Hooper wasn’t concerned about the game coming down to the Wingnuts’ two most inexperienced players, even though veterans had a hand in all of the Wichita’s runs. C.J. Ziegler got the Wingnuts to within a run by leading off the bottom of the ninth with a home run.
"When you’re going to play young guys, there’s going to be a learning curve with it," Hooper said. "You’ve got to put them in those spots for them to learn. This is an atmosphere they’re not used to being in, I don’t think. It’ll be great — I’m excited about both those guys, and they both have the ability to help us out."
The Wingnuts were stymied over the first five innings by Kansas City’s left-handed starter, Aaron Meade, but they tied the game with three unearned runs against him in the sixth.
The T-Bones regained the lead in the next half inning as No. 9 hitter Brandon Pearl, who had struck out on six combined pitches in his previous two at-bats, hit an RBI single. It scored Felix Molina, who singled to start the inning and stole second against an inattentive Wichita defense and pitcher Daniel Bennett.
Ziegler gave the Wingnuts a hopeful start to the bottom of the ninth by hitting the first pitch from closer Jhonny Montoya over the left-field wall for his second homer in as many nights. Ziegler figured a pitcher with whom he had no familiarity might throw a first-pitch fastball to get ahead in the count, and Ziegler was a step ahead when Montoya proved him right.
"I talked to (Hooper) before the at-bat and he said if it’s something you like, go for it," Ziegler said. "Usually in that situation you’re probably going to take there, but sometimes that changes depending on how you’re feeling."
Third baseman Abel Nieves, who earlier fielded a slow-rolling grounder that appeared to be going foul, leading to three fourth-inning runs for the T-Bones, singled with one out to hand the game to Loehrs and Amberson.
Loehrs worked a 2-0 count before lining out to center field, a ball that few American Association outfielders other than the T-Bones’ former major-leaguer Brandon Jones would have tracked down.
Amberson got behind 0-2 due to a seemingly eager approach before grounding out to second to end the game. Loehrs, Amberson and Jared McDonald, the Wingnuts’ No. 9 hitter, combined to go 0 for 11 while the heart of Wichita’s order — John Rodriguez, Ziegler and Cole Armstrong — produced four RBIs and three runs scored.
"We feel like we have a good chance, if we’re down like that in the last couple innings, we feel like we can make a game of it," Ziegler said. "We did there in the sixth, and they came up on top. That’s the way the game goes sometimes."
Just like a mistake helped Kansas City score three in the fourth, the Wingnuts took advantage of a T-Bones miscue to tie the game two innings later.
With Ryan Khoury on second after a walk, Rodriguez reached on a two-out throwing error that put runners on first and third when Kansas City could have escaped the sixth with no damaged.
Ziegler was the first to make that error hurt, notching an RBI single. Armstrong followed with his first hit of the season, a two-run double to left that tied it. To that point, Meade had carved through the Wingnuts’ order, keeping Wichita out of scoring position for the first five innings and throwing 62 pitches.
"Got a little life in us, in the at-bats," Ziegler said. "We were looking for that spark to get us going."
The Wingnuts’ runs got starting pitcher Chris Smith off the hook for a loss. He retired 10 straight to start the game and finished six innings with eight strikeouts. Kansas City’s insurance run, which turned out to be the difference in the one-run game, came as a result of a pair of infield hits in the ninth.
|Kansas City T-Bones||Wichita Wingnuts|
|K.Jones cf||4||0||0||0||Khoury ss||3||1||1||0|
|Bass lf||5||1||1||0||Kahaulelio 2b||4||0||0||0|
|B.Jones dh||4||1||1||1||Rodriguez dh||3||1||1||0|
|Sadler rf||5||0||2||0||Ziegler 1b||4||2||2||2|
|Padgett 1b||3||1||1||1||Armstrong c||4||0||1||2|
|Goodwin 2b||4||0||1||1||Nieves 3b||4||0||1||0|
|Molina ss||4||1||2||1||Loehrs lf||3||0||0||0|
|Perez 3b||4||0||0||0||Perren ph||1||0||0||0|
|Pearl c||4||1||2||1||Amberson rf||4||0||0||0|
E — Molina, Loehrs. LOB — KC 8, Wichita 4. DP— KC. 2B — Sadler (1), Armstrong (1). HR — Ziegler (2). SB — Bass (1), Molina 2 (2), Khoury (1). .
Umpires — Breian Kreps; Ryan Heine, first; Trent Delmont, third. T — 2:41. A — 3,576.