The River City Rascals defeated the Evansville Otters, 7-5, behind a five run first inning Sunday afternoon to force a game five in the Frontier League Championship Series.
The winner take all game will be played at historic Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana, Monday night as the Rascals look to win their second championship in team history (2010 under manager Steve Brook).
Prior to this year, the Rascals had lost the past two championships and looking to avoid that for the third year in a row, Brook sent southpaw Dan Ludwig to the mound.
In the opening frame, Ludwig struck out leadoff hitter Rolando Gomez but a solo home run from the Frontier League MVP Josh Allen gave the Otters a 1-0 lead for their solid, right-handed rookie Matt Wivinis.
In the series opener, Wivinis tossed eight innings of one run baseball to earn the win but struggled in the first inning on Sunday and the Rascals were able to scratch across five runs.
With one out, the Rascals had six consecutive baserunners reach and tied the game up at one when Kyle Gaedele drew a bases loaded walk. On the next pitch, Jason Merjano was hit in the foot to give the Rascals a 2-1 lead and then a wild pitch scored Josh Silver to give the hometown club a two-run advantage.
Mike Jurgella singled to make it 4-1 and Clint Freeman notched a sacrifice fly to bring home the final run of the inning and gave starter Dan Ludwig a four-run lead.
In the second, both teams exchanged runs with an Otters sacrifice fly and a RBI single from Kyle Gaedele and the score was 6-2 heading into the third inning.
After a scoreless third frame, the Otters put a scare into the Rascals and chased starter Dan Ludwig out of the game.
Breen and Balog singled and with one out and then Chris Sweeney made it 6-3 with a RBI single. Chris Riopedre walked with one out and then manager Steve Brook went to Nick Kennedy with the bases loaded and the tying run on first base. Kennedy fell behind in the count 3-0 and then stranded the bases loaded by inducing a 6-4-3 double play ball.
“We tried a couple sliders to see if we can get him to chase and then after I threw a fastball out of the zone, I threw a strike, settled down a little bit and was able to get the ground ball to Johnny to get out of the inning,” Kennedy said. “That was a big spot in the game and I was just happy I was able to come in and do my job.”
River City rode that momentum into home half of the fourth and they scored their final run on a RBI double from Josh Silver that closed the book on Otters starter Matt Wivinis.
Taking the loss, Wivinis allowed seven runs (six earned) on six hits and three walks.
The win went to Austin Warner, who tossed scoreless fifth, sixth and seventh innings and allowed an unearned run that brought the Otters within three runs at 7-4.
The Otters made it 7-5 in the eighth against Skylar Hunter with a RBI single from Rolando Gomez and then the offense was shut down the rest of the way when Zac Treece tossed a scoreless ninth with a pair of strikeouts to earn his second save of the postseason.
The save from Treece kept the Rascals season alive and game five is scheduled for 6:35 Monday night in Evansville.
“For us to be able to hang on to the lead in a ballpark like this was huge,” Brook said. “Treece and Warner did a really good job coming in and shutting the door on the offensive attack that they had.”
“We didn’t go out there pressing and we just played like we have all year,” Josh Silver said. “We have been down with our backs against the wall all year and we just continue to fight back, that’s the Rascals way.”
The Rascals will send right-hander Zeb Sneed to the mound against Otters southpaw Hunter Ackerman.