Leading their division by eight games with an eight-game winning streak and the best record in the American Association, it seems all the Wingnuts need is a challenge. And it doesn’t get much more challenging than trying to rally in the bottom of the ninth.
Like the rest of Wichita’s season, late-inning rallies are proving hardly challenging at all. Saturday, the Wingnuts scored three in the ninth to beat Amarillo 5-4 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. David Amberson got the game-winning RBI on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch.
Compared to other recent comebacks, Saturday’s wasn’t high in degree of difficulty. On Tuesday, the Wingnuts waited until there were two outs and nobody on base in the ninth before scoring twice on three straight singles to beat Grand Prairie.
Saturday’s rally started when Chris McClendon hit a leadoff single against former Wingnuts right-hander Cephas Howard.
“We’ve got great leadership, from (manager Kevin) Hooper all the way down,” said Chris McMurray, who drove in the tying run with a double to the left-field wall. “The veterans on the team are all relaxed and calm, and that brings a calm and relaxed atmosphere.”
The Wingnuts seem to know when to break out of their collective laid-back nature, even if Hooper wishes it could sometimes happen sooner. Saturday, Ryan Khoury started the third with a double, scoring later on a groundout, then Wichita went 18 batters until its next hit.
That hit was McClendon’s, but it didn’t immediately produce momentum because there were still more roadblocks for the Wingnuts to overcome. Jake Kahaulelio followed McClendon with a long fly ball to the right-center field gap, but Derek Perren sprinted over before making a diving catch.
Two batters later, after Brent Clevlen’s one-out single, Carlo Testa hit a hard groundball just across the first-base foul line that could have driven in two runs. And after Testa singled, he hesitated on the bases on McMurray’s double, possibly preventing him from scoring.
“Tough baserunning spot with Testa,” Hooper said. “It was kind of in-between with the fly ball and I thought we could probably win the game if he’s around second base, like I would want him to be. It worked out, and we learned from it. That’s what I told (Testa) – he was upset about it, and I said, ‘We’re going to win the ballgame right here.’ ”
It didn’t happen with the immediacy Hooper predicted, because Taylor Oldham struck out and Trevor Whyte was intentionally walked to load the bases for Amberson, who had six RBIs in 54 games. He got his easiest RBI yet, taking the first pitch from Adam Maxon on the arm to score Testa.
Before the ninth, the Wingnuts’ greatest challenge was trying to muster offense against Coleman Stephens, who retired 14 in a row following Khoury’s third-inning double. But those difficulties didn’t matter until the sixth inning, when Amarillo scored two against Tim Brown after Brown set down the first 12 Sox batters.
Even the ninth inning began ominously, as Hooper visited closer Matt Nevarez on the mound following a deep flyout – Hooper said Nevarez was complaining of shoulder soreness after the game.
Amarillo scored two against Nevarez on four hits, ending with 14 hits after not collecting its first until the fifth inning. But the runs and the hits weren’t enough against a Wingnuts team that has created a big picture – eight straight wins, an eight-game division lead and the best record in the AA – that looks easy in spite of day-to-day challenges.
“Persevere, baby,” Hooper said. “We were anemic. We were pretty bad offensively. Grind it out until the end, make things happen. I like it. I like it.”
|Bladel rf||3||0||0||0||Khoury ss||4||2||2||0|
|Perren ph/rf||1||0||1||1||McClendon 3b||4||1||1||1|
|Martin cf||5||0||1||0||Kahaulelio 2b||4||0||1||1|
|Pinckney 2b||5||1||2||1||Clevlen cf||3||1||1||0|
|Patton lf||4||1||2||1||Testa lf||4||1||1||1|
|Weik 1b||4||0||1||0||McMurray c||3||0||1||1|
|Nichols dh||4||0||2||1||Oldham dh||4||0||0||0|
|Bellows ss||4||0||1||0||Whyte 1b||3||0||0||0|
|Mahoney 3b||4||1||2||0||Amberson rf||3||0||0||1|
|Amarillo||000||002||002||—||4 14 0|
|Wichita||101||000||003||—||5 7 0|
LOB — Amarillo 9, Wichita 5. 2B – Patton (11), Mahoney (13), Khoury (14), Kahaulelio (20), McMurray (13). HBP – Amberson (4) by Maxon. SB – Farnham (8), Khoury (22), Kahaulelio (10), Clevlen (10).
|Howard L, 1-1||1/3||3||3||3||0||0|
|Nevarez W, 3-0||1||4||2||2||0||1|
HBP – Amberson by Maxon (2). Umpires — Home, Sean Hicks; 1B, Marty Bauer; 3B, Randy Wilmes.
T – 2:54. A – 3,200.