The River City Rascals drew 12 total walks, with the most important one coming to Clint Freeman with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the Normal CornBelters on a walk-off walk, 2-1, Saturday night at CarShield Field.
The one-run victory was the second consecutive for the Rascals and they become one of the three teams in the Frontier League to remain undefeated through the first two games.
Despite winning the game, the Rascals failed to record a hit that resulted in a run and had just five hits the entire game.
After Rascals starter Dan Ludwig and CornBelters starter Corey Kimes exchanged scoreless frames through the first three innings, the Rascals got a run an unconventional way with Mike Jurgella scoring on a dropped third strike with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
However, the Rascals would go on to load the bases in the same inning and once again in the fifth inning but failed to score a run and left a total of 16 guys on base.
In the top of the sixth inning, the CornBelters scratched across their first and only run of the game with three singles, including a RBI single from Santiago Chirino to tie the game at one.
Those three hits were half of the hits that Ludwig allowed all night and he finished tossing eight innings, allowing the one run on six hits, one walk and struck out five, including four in a row in the 4th and the 5th.
“I thought Dan commanded the zone very well, he was working off his cutters and breaking ball to lefties and had a good changeup tonight. He kept the ball down and tonight was the kind of the night that if you hit your spot then you generally got a strike call,” Brook said.
“Especially with the first game of the year, there is a lot of jitters and just trying to get the feel of things,” Ludwig said. ”Mainly I just tried to fill up the zone and let the defense do their thing.”
He would take a no decision and Rascals manager Steve Brook called for righty Jason Zgardowksi to take over in the top of the ninth. CornBelters veteran Aaron Dudley notched a one out double but Zgardowski worked around it to give the Rascals the opportunity to record their first walk-off win of the year.
On the mound for Normal was their second reliever of the night, Nigel Nootbaar who had struck out five in two innings coming into the ninth. Nootbaar continued to have his way with the Rascals hitters retiring the first two in the frame and then walked Jurgella to keep the game alive. One batter later, Jason Merjano reached on catcher’s interference, followed by a Taylor Love walk to load the bases.
Brook called upon pinch-hitter Clint Freeman and after starting the count ahead 2-0, Nootbaar worked Freeman to a full count before a couple foul balls and the final ball out of the zone that gave the Rascals the win.
The win marks the Rascals first series win of the year and they go for the sweep Sunday afternoon with southpaw Austin Warner on the mound. First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 p.m.