The series of the season in the American Association began Wednesday night when the Wichita Wingnuts traveled up I-35 to take on the Kansas City T-Bones with both teams seeking the final playoff spot in the South Division. Wichita entered the game trailing Kansas City by 1.5 but, thanks to eight outstanding innings by starter Travis Banwart, they moved within a half game of the T-Bones after completing a 6-3 victory. Logan Watkins and Zach Nehrir each had two hits and drove in two runs for the victorious Wingnuts.
The Wichita Wingnuts jumped out to a two run lead against Kansas City starter Jared Mortensen in the top of the first. Logan Watkins led off the game with a walk and scored when Zach Nehrir doubled down the line in left field. Nehrir moved to third on the throw and scored when Abel Nieves followed with an infield single. That put Wichita up 2-0.
In the second, Kansas City would get one of those runs back. Noah Perio, Jr. doubled into right-center to start the frame. Two batters later Danny Hayes walked but it looked like Wichita starter Travis Banwart would get out of the inning unscathed when he retired Anthony Phillips for the second out of the inning. That would not prove to be the case, as Keith Curcio doubled into left field, bringing Perio home. Wichita caught a huge break when the ball bounced over the wall for a ground rule double, holding Hayes at third. A walk loaded the bases, bringing Mason Davis to the plate, who grounded a ball into right field for what seemed destined for a base hit, but Watkins made a great diving play to his left, throwing out Davis at first for the final out of the frame.
Two innings later, Wichita would take a commanding lead. Chase Simpson walked to start the inning and moved to third on a base hit by Nick Rotola. Mortensen then struck out Leo Vargas but a double by Watkins brought home both Simpson and Rotola to extend the lead to three. Nehrir followed with a base hit up the middle, scoring Watkins to put Wichita ahead 5-1.
That lead held until the seventh, when the Wingnuts would add one more insurance run. Angel Reyes walked to start the inning and moved to second on a wild pitch. Walks to Tony Thomas and Simpson loaded the bases and a one out hit by pitch of Rotola brought in the sixth run of the game for Wichita. Reliever Jackson Lowery was in a lot of trouble, but induced a double-play to end the frame.
Following the run in the second, Banwart was in complete command. He gave up a base hit to start the fourth inning, then retired 14 straight batters. His run finally came to an end when Todd Cunningham doubled with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, but he would go no further than second base. Travis Banwart (8-4) came out after 8-innings. He allowed 6-hits, 3-walks, and one earned run, striking out 6.
In the ninth, Wichita sent closer Daniel Tillman on looking to close out the contest. He retired the first batter, but Adrian Nieto singled and Hayes followed with his first home run of the season to cut the deficit to three. However, Tillman was able to retire the final two batters of the inning to end the game, giving the Wichita Wingnuts a 6-3 victory.
Logan Watkins and Zach Nehrir were deadly at the top of the order, as both went 2-4 with 2-RBI and a walk. Watkins scored 2-runs while Nehrir had a run scored. Danny Hayes led the Kansas City offense, going 1-3 with a run and 2-RBI.
With the Wichita Wingnuts now trailing by just half a game, these two teams will go at it again on Thursday night in the second game of their three-game set. Left-hander Casey Harman (11-4, 3.66) will go for Wichita. He will be opposed by right-hander Tommy Collier (11-3, 3.27). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier