Crushers hold on for 4-3 win
The Crushers’ Tuesday night opponent was Normal. The first at-bat in the top of the ninth was anything but.
CornBelters shortstop Patrick McKenna hit a routine fly ball to straight-away center, but Kevin Berard couldn’t find it and threw his arms up in disbelief as it landed well behind him, all the way back at the warning track.
Despite this bizarre happening, the Crushers were able to hold on to win 4-3, as Dale Dickerson struck out the final two batters to earn his third save.
“Around that time, it’s pretty hard to see the ball whenever it goes in the air. It went to high, I didn’t see it,” Berard said. “They were telling me back, back, back, but I was still looking up. I got to it too late and tried to make a throw to the infield but we didn’t get in time to stop him at home.”
“He had no idea where it was,” manager Jeff Isom said. “But once he saw the ball get down he has to get after that baseball. Fortunately, it didn’t come back to bite us.”
Berard recovered two batters later, retiring Keoni Manago on a line drive that was right at him. Dickerson proceeded to strike out the final two hitters, the last on a fastball on the inside corner for strike three.
Dickerson now owns the team lead in saves, and is embracing his role as the team’s closer, even if he isn’t making any changes to his mindset on the mound.
“Basically, I try to treat as any other outing. Just go out there, and strike one to every hitter. Make them feel uncomfortable in the box.
The side-armed right hander wouldn’t have been in position for the save if it wasn’t for a spectacular outing from starter Dave Middendorf. Middendorf pitched eight innings, giving up just two runs on five hits, striking out five CornBelter hitters. Only one of the two allowed runs was earned.
“He was great,” Dickerson said. “That was the big thing; I really wanted to get that for him. He’s been a huge, number one guy for us.”
Middendorf gave up an early, unearned run in the top of the first, thanks to an error on the first play of the game from second baseman Max Casper and a wild pitch. From there, the game was scoreless until the bottom of the sixth inning.
“It was a great pitcher’s duel tonight until we broke things open there,” Isom said. “Their pitcher and Middendorf, they both threw the ball really well. It was a situation where he did a very good job, and I’m very happy with the pitching.
“At one point, it wasn’t going to well [offensively], but once we saw a little opening in that door, we ended up pouncing on it.”
The “opening in that door” which Isom was referring to, came with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Daniel Bowman, who was hitting in the fourth spot, drew a walk and stole second to set up Russ Moldenhauer to make the Crushers first breakthrough.
The Crushers first baseman ripped a single to right field, driving in Bowman to tie the game at one. Moldenhauer then came around to score himself, despite a questionable call by Isom to send him around third after a double fromEmmanuel Quiles. Moldenhauer would have been out at the plate had CornBelters’ catcher Jenzen Torres fielded a good relay throw cleanly.
“He would have been out by five steps,” Isom said. “I figured, two outs, I saw the ball getting over the cut-off man, and I’m like ok it’s gonna short-hop the third baseman. He had to make a great play, and he hit the catcher right in the glove, fortunately he ended up dropping it. I’ll take it.
“I mean it seems like those breaks have been going against us, so it’s finally nice to see those breaks going our way now.”
Quiles went to third on the throw to the plate, and came around to score on an infield single from Ricardo Lizcano, who appeared to be shaken up on the play, but stayed in the game after being checked on by Isom and the Crushers’ trainer.
The CornBelters came back in the top of the seventh to draw back within one thanks to home run that actually did clear the fence off the bat of McKenna. That pitch was the only mistake out of the hand of Middendorf on the night.
The Crushers added one more in the bottom half of the seventh thanks to an RBI single by Andrew Davis which scored Max Casper from third. The single gave Davis his 15th RBI on the season, and extended his hitting streak to 18 games.
“That’s news to me,” Isom said about the streak. “We know what’s gonna happen tomorrow. I’m gonna blame this all on you when we talk tomorrow night.
“He puts together good at-bats, I mean he’s a professional hitter. He gives himself an opportunity to hit every time up.”
The Crushers will look to extend their modest two-game winning streak tomorrow against these same CornBelters, and look to be building confidence despite losing two of three to the league’s worst team, the Rockford Aviators, over the weekend. Matt Smith will be on the mound, trying to improve upon his 2-1 record, and 3.51 ERA.