The Texas AirHogs had to be feeling pretty good about themselves on Saturday evening after jumping out to a three run lead in the top of the first, but the Wichita Wingnuts offense was as hot as the Kansas sun, proving to be too much for Texas in the 8-6 Wichita victory. Three runs in each of the first two innings helped to lead the way for the Wingnuts and Charlie Gillies won his fifth game of the year despite having his worst outing of the season.
This contest had the makings of a fantastic pitcher’s duel as Charlie Gillies had allowed just two earned runs in his last 14 innings entering the contest and Texas starter Meng Wieqiang had allowed just three in his last 11 innings. However, neither starter would have a good outing.
In the top of the first, Lu Zhenhong led off with an infield single and moved to third when Casio Grider followed with a double down the line in left. With runners at second and third and no one out, Dillon Thomas lined a single up the middle to score Zhenhong and give the AirHogs a 1-0 lead. A walk to Correlle Prime loaded the bases and it looked like this could be a disastrous first-inning for Gillies. However, he was able to record back to back run-scoring ground outs before getting a third ground out to end the inning, but Texas lead 3-0.
The Wichita Wingnuts responded right away in the bottom of the first. After Logan Watkins popped out, Zach Nehrir singled to center before Abel Nieves walked. That brought Tony Thomas to the plate, who laced a ball down the left field line that just landed fair and into the left field corner. Both runners came around to score as Thomas raced into third with a triple. He scored on a single by John Nester and the game was tied at three.
In the bottom of the second, Wichita would take the lead. Leo Vargas singled with one out and moved to second on a Watkins walk. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position for Nehrir. He grounded a ball to second, with the second baseman opting to come home. The throw was late as Vargas scored to give Wichita the lead. There were runners at first and third with one down when Nehrir took off for second on the stolen base attempt. It looked like the Texas second baseman had a play, but he opted to come home when he saw Watkins looking to score from third. The throw was late and both runners were safe to extend the lead two. A single by Nieves brought in Nehrir and the Wichita Wingnuts had a 6-3 lead.
In the fourth, Wichita gave themselves a little extra cushion. Nieves started the inning by reaching base for the third time, this time on a single. He stole second and moved to third on a single by Nester. Ryne Willard drilled a ball to the wall in center that easily scored Nieves. Nester look to score from first, but a perfect relay from the center fielder to the shortstop to the catcher nailed him at the plate. However, the Wingnuts were up 7-3.
That extra run proved to be crucial, as the AirHogs rallied for three runs in the fifth, nearly chasing Gillies from the game. Chen Chen led off with a walk. Lu grounded a ball to the Wichita second baseman in what should’ve been a fielder’s choice, but the throw to short was errant, allowing both runners to be safe. With runners at the corners and no one out, Grider hit a sacrifice fly that brought in Chen to cut the deficit to three. Thomas followed with a single and both runners came home when Prime doubled into the gap in right-center to cut the Wingnuts lead to one. A single put runners at the corners and there was still just one out, but Vargas made the play of the game when he moved far to his left on a ground ball up the middle by Chen Junpeng, corralled the ball, made a great flip to second and onto first for the double-play.
Wichita got one of those runs back in the bottom of the fifth. Hunter Clanin fouled off five pitches to stay alive before doubling. He came home to score on a sacrifice fly by Vargas to make it 8-6.
Gillies (5-1) came out after five. The Wichita Wingnuts bullpen took over from there, and tossed four outstanding innings. Seth Harvey allowed a hit and a walk in two innings of work, striking out three. Austin Boyle tossed a perfect eighth-inning and Daniel Tillman came on in the ninth, striking out the side for his 13th save of the season.
Abel Nieves finished 2-4 with 2-runs scored and Zach Nehrir also scored 2-runs. Dillon Thomas was 2-3 with 2-runs scored and an RBI for Texas.
The victory moved the Wichita Wingnuts into a tie with the Kansas City T-Bones for second place in the South Division. Tomorrow they look for a sweep of Texas. Game time is scheduled for 1:05.
Featured Image by Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier