Amarillo Thunderheads Drop Boom on Wichita Wingnuts, 7-2
If you haven’t noticed lately, the shirt collars appear to be a little tighter around the necks of the Wichita Wingnuts players. The solid play of the Laredo Lemurs, 8-2 in their last 10, and the struggles of the Wingnuts, 4-6 in the same span, has allowed the Lemurs to move from 6.5 out to just 2.5 now after Wichita fell 7-2 Tuesday night to the Amarillo Thunderheads. There is no panic on a Kevin Hooper team, however, but clearly there is some concern.
With Amarillo out of contention for the playoffs, many would not have been surprised to see them simply play out of the season, but that is not how the Thunderheads play. They come to win, and a big four-run fifth inning was the key to the game.
Jason Van Skike took the mound for the Wichita Wingnuts against Matt Larkins for the Thunderheads. Both pitchers put up goose eggs through the first two frames, but in the bottom of the third the Wingnuts grabbed the lead. Nick Van Stratten led off the inning and, after taking a called first strike, he ripped a home run to make it 1-0. That was his first homer since joining the Kansas team.
Van Skike had been absolutely awesome through the first four innings. He allowed just one hit, a ground rule double in the third, and a walk, while striking out three. He was in complete control, but in the fifth Amarillo managed to put together an impressive rally to take the lead.
Geraldo Valentin led off the inning with a double to the wall in left field. Christian Ibarra drew a walk to put two on with no one out. The Wingnuts starter retired the next hitter, but Corey Bass loaded the bases with a single. Former Wingnuts’ infielder Kori Melo was the next hitter and he tied the score with a single of his own that plated Valentin. Juan Martinez gave Amarillo the lead with a double that brought home both Ibarra and Bass, and Melo scored on a ground out to make it 4-1.
It was an astounding turn of events, and the way that Larkins was pitching it was not looking good for the Wingnuts. The Amarillo starter allowed a lone hit in each of the fourth and fifth innings, and was keeping the Wichita hitters off balance.
In the sixth the home team would finally get back on the scoreboard. T.J. Mittelstaedt singled with one out and moved to second on a single by John Nester. Harrison Kain followed with the third straight hit, scoring Mittelstaedt to make it 4-2.
Up by two, the Amarillo Thunderheads responded right away in the top of the seventh. Bass singled to begin the inning and moved to second on a wild pitch. Melo attempted to sacrifice him to second, but Van Skike’s throw was wild, allowing Bass to score. Two batters later Melo came home on a Rene Leveret double and it was 6-2 Amarillo.
The Thunderheads added one more run in the eighth. Ibarra reached on a walk to start the inning, stole second and scored on a ground rule double by Melo. The former Wingnut had an impressive game against his former club, going 3-3 with 2 runs and 2 RBI.
The five-run lead was plenty enough for Larkins (8-5). The right-hander went 7 innings, allowed 8 hits, 3 walks and 2 runs while striking out 6. He threw an amazing 123 pitches in what should be his next to last start of the season.
Two other Thunderheads players had big days at the plate. Bass was 2-4 with 2 runs scored and Valentin was 2-5 with a run. Ibarra was 0-3, but scored 2 runs and walked twice.
For the Wichita Wingnuts, Van Stratten was 2-3 with 2 walks, a run and an RBI. Mittelstaedt was 2-5 with a run scored.
By Robert Pannier