Luis Hernandez Sends Wichita Wingnuts to Walk-Off Win
For about 25 minutes Tuesday night, it looked like the game between the Wichita Wingnuts and Joplin Blasters was going to end more like a video game score than a closely contested pitchers’ duel. One-and-a-half innings into the game it was tied at three. However, for the next eight innings neither team was able to put up any runs, until Luis Hernandez sent the home crowd home with a hard-fought 4-3 win. That moved the Wingnuts just a game behind Joplin in the South Division standings.
Alex Koronis was making his second start for the Wingnuts. In his first start he lasted just four innings, and was looking to rebound. The Blasters had other ideas. Koronis retired the first hitter of the game, then hit Oscar Mesa and walked Yasser Gomez. Two batters later Jake Taylor lined a single into center field to plate Mesa and give Joplin the lead.
Matt Parish started for Joplin. He has been brilliant at times this season, but also struggled in his last start. He, too, got off to a tough start. Jayce Ray led off the home half of the first with a single, and moved to second on a single by David Espinosa. Parish retired the next two hitters, but Starlin Rodriguez kept the inning alive with a single that scored Ray to tie the score. Matt Padgett followed with a double to the wall in center field that scored both Espinosa and Rodriguez to make it a two-run lead for the Wichita Wingnuts.
Koronis was not able to hold the lead. Mitch Glasser led-off the second with a walk and two batters later Jesus Solorzano crushed his fifth home run of the season to tie the score.
No one would have been surprised to see this game turn into a 12-11 slugfest, but both pitching staffs came to life from that point on. Parrish pitched five scoreless innings from the second through the sixth before turning the game over to his bullpen. The right-hander allowed 7 hits in 6 innings of work, walking 2, striking out 3, and giving up 3 earned runs.
Koronis settled down and pitched quite well after the second. He would not allow another run through his final three innings of work. For the evening the Wingnuts starter allowed 3 hits, 4 walks and 3 earned runs in 5 innings of work, while striking out 3. Neither pitcher figured in the decision.
Daniel Bennett and Al Yevoli combined to shut down the Joplin Blasters from the sixth through the eighth. Closer Dakota Watts gave the Wichita Wingnuts two outstanding innings of relief in the ninth and tenth innings, giving his club the chance to win the game.
In the eighth the Wingnuts had a chance to end it when Joplin closer walked two batters with two outs, but Sam Agnew-Wieland came on to end the threat. In the ninth he would hit Ray to begin the frame, but then retired the three hitters to setup the dramatic conclusion.
In the home half of the tenth, Agnew-Wieland hit Rodriguez, the second straight inning where he had begun the frame by hitting a Wingnuts batter. Back-t0-back errors moved Rodriguez to third, but the Joplin reliever remained cool, striking out Padgett to keep the game tied. John Nester was intentionally walked, and the Wingnuts turned to Hernandez to pinch-hit. The first pitch that Agnew-Wieland threw Hernandez lined into center field for a base hit, scoring Rodriguez with the game-winner. That made a winner of Watts (2-0).
Hernandez was the hero on this night, but no one can ignore the amazing job done by the bullpen. The three relievers combined to pitch five innings, allowing no hits and two walks, while striking out four.
By Robert Pannier