The River City Rascals (49-47) clinched a berth into the 2016 Frontier League playoffs on the final day of the regular season with a 5-1 win over the rival Southern Illinois Miners Sunday evening at Rent One Park.
It took all 96 games of the Rascals' season to discover their fate and the quest to get back into the Frontier League playoffs for the third year in a row lied on the shoulders of southpaw Dan Ludwig and his offense to snap a five game losing streak.
Sunday night’s game was a do or die situation and coming into the season finale, the Rascals had lost nine of the first eleven games against Southern Illinois this year and the tenth loss would have ended the Rascals season.
Starting for the Miners was right-hander Kyle Tinius and he had to work around a pair of baserunners in each of the first two innings to take a scoreless game into the top of the third.
In the Rascals' first opportunity, they had two on with one out and a double play ball ended the threat. In the second inning, the Rascals got a leadoff single from Kyle Gaedele and he got into scoring position via a sacrifice bunt from Jason Merjano. Jurgella added to threat with a single but neither would come around to score and the Rascals began the game leaving four men on base.
The second inning was the final for Tinius and the Miners would use five different pitchers the remainder of the game.
River City only used two arms and they were both stellar, including their starter Dan Ludwig. A Miner for the majority of the season before coming over in a trade on August 5th, Ludwig kept the opponent scoreless despite a pair of hits the first time through the lineup.
“We needed a win to make the playoffs and I needed to come out and give my team a chance to do that,” Ludwig said. “I thought I had good stuff tonight and I was able to throw everything over the plate knowing that I have a trustworthy defense behind me.”
Ludwig got to pitch with the lead for the first time in the bottom of the third inning as designated hitter Josh Ludy broke a scoreless tie with a RBI single in the top half against the first of five relievers on the night for the Miners, Nick Palacios.
The Rascals added one more off Palacios in the top of the fourth with a RBI single from Robby Enslen and the 2-0 lead marked the Rascals largest lead of the six game road trip.
However, the lead got slimmer in the home half of the fourth as the Rascals scored their only run of the night, a solo home run off the bat of slugger Alex De Leon.
The 2-1 lead was enough for Ludwig as he finished tossing seven 1/3 innings allowing just the one run on seven scattered hits and struck out six to become the first Rascal to ten wins on the year.
In the top of the fifth, Johnny Morales led off with a single and Josh Silver added to the Rascals lead with a two-run home run against reliever Zach Cooper to make it 4-1. River City kept building insurance by scoring another run in the top of the sixth inning.
“Being able to give the pitching staff a bigger lead was huge and we kept it going the next inning adding one more run,” Silver said. “Offensively and defensively we were locked in, playing loose and having fun.”
The sixth inning marked the Rascals fourth straight frame scoring a run and it came against the Miners fourth pitcher of the night, left-hander Jake Pannunzio.
Jason Merjano led off the frame with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Mike Jurgella and then a sacrifice fly from Clint Freeman drove him in capping off the Rascals scoring in the 5-1 victory.
With the four run lead, Ludwig retired the side in order in the bottom of the sixth and seventh and then was replaced by closer Zac Treece with one on and one out in the eighth. A guy who normally comes in for the ninth inning, Treece sealed the victory by striking out two in the eighth and worked around a one out single in the ninth to put the Rascals into the playoffs for the third consecutive year, and the fifth time in Manger Steve Brook’s managerial career.
In Brook’s first trip to the playoffs in 2010, his Rascals team won the Frontier League Championship and the hunt for the second one begins Tuesday night at CarShield Field in O’Fallon, Missouri.
The first round matchup will be against Southern Illinois while the other side of the Frontier League bracket will have Evansville hosting the Eastern Division Champion Joliet Slammers.
“It’s a sigh of relief knowing that the regular season is over with and that we made the playoffs. Now we can start fresh and don’t have to worry about what any other team is doing except ourselves. There’s one thing on our mind and it’s to win three out of five against a good ball club,” fourth year shortstop Johnny Morales said.
Game one is scheduled for 6:35 and tickets can be purchased at rivercityrascals.com.