A two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning from Paul Kronenfeld stood as the game-winner and the River City Rascals (42-36) held off the Normal CornBelters (36-39), 6-4, Friday night in the series opener at the Corn Crib.
Besides Kronenfeld, Clint Freeman also homered and the second year first baseman was the first to put the Rascals on the board and tied the game at one in the top of the third inning.
The game remained that way until the top of the fifth where the Rascals got their bats going and sent seven batters to the plate against the opponent’s starter Edgar De La Rosa.
Kronenfeld was the first of the seven batters and got things going with his seventh double of the year. He moved to third on a single through the left side of the infield by Braxton Martinez but was retired one batter later on a stellar defensive play by first baseman Aaron Dudley.
De La Rosa followed that with a strikeout but wasn’t able to get out of the jam as Johnny Morales and Josh Ludy beat the righty with back-to-back RBI singles to take a 3-1 lead.
Kronenfeld extended the Rascals lead to four runs with a two-run home run in the top of the sixth and that would be enough for the Rascals to take the series opener.
“Their starter had good velocity so I just wanted to attack and put good swings on balls,” Kronenfeld said. “I stayed simple and tried to anything I could to get the offense going. I also got to give it up to our phenomenal pitching staff who finished the game for us.”
The sixth inning was also the end of the line for the Belters starter, De La Rosa, and he took his fifth loss of the year, allowing five runs, earned, on ten hits and struck out seven.
Right-hander Jonathan De Marte was the only reliever and he allowed a run via a RBI double off the bat of Josh Ludy before going on to strike out six in a three inning relief appearance.
Southpaw Hector Hernandez got the ball for the Rascals and in his 16th start of the season, the former 10th round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals kept the Belters bats at bay and the only runs he allowed prior to the stretch were off a pair of RBI ground outs, one in the second inning and one in the sixth.
Following the stretch, he ran into some trouble and was chased out of the game after giving up a trio of hits, including two that resulted in a RBI and brought the tying run in Santiago Chirino up to the plate.
Rascals veteran Nick Kennedy was called upon by manager Steve Brook and with help from his first baseman Clint Freeman, he got out of the inning with just two pitches.
Jonny Ortiz and Storm Rynard combined to keep the Belters off the scoreboard in the eighth and Cody Mincey earned his team leading ninth save of the year with a double play and a strikeout to end the night.
Hernandez got the win, his seventh of the year and allowed four runs, earned, on eight hits and struck out three.
The win gives the Rascals a record of 20-7 in series openers and overall are ranked third in the Frontier League with 42 wins, putting them in a good position for a potential wild card spot with 18 games remaining.
Game two of the series is scheduled for Saturday night at 6:35 p.m.
“We went fire for fire with the CornBelters tonight and we just need to do keep winning ball games and we will be where we want to be at the end of the season,” Freeman said after the win.
River City Rascals