Solid start by Meadville’s Fletcher set up Mudcats’ first ’21 victory

Righty allowed only two earned run in 4-innings stint Saturday

By PAUL STURM, LCL Sports Editor
Conner Fletcher, only a few weeks past his graduation from Meadville High School, fires a pitch during his 4-innings start in the Chillicothe Mudcats' college-level baseball game against the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' Queen City Crush at "June" Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium in Chillicothe last Saturday. Although he got no decision, Fletcher threw very creditably, allowing only two earned runs on two hits with four strikeouts, helping offset the six walks and two hit batsmen he handed out. The Mudcats eventually won for the first time in three tries this season, 11-6.

CHILLICOTHE — Although not involved in the pitching decision, 2021 Meadville High School graduate Conner Fletcher directly contributed to the Chillicothe Mudcats’ college-level, wood-bat baseball team registering its first victory of this season after two losses last Saturday.

Tabbed by head coach Tyler Hudlow to start the Mudcats’ only non-MINK League game of the summer, the 6’2” righthander was touched for five runs, only two of which were earned, on five hits while throwing four innings and departing with the game with Springfield’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes-sponsored Queen City Crush tied, 5-5.

After Fletcher worked a perfect first frame, four of the Springfield team’s runs scored in the second. They were facilitated by an unfortunate combination of his own three walks, a hit batsman, and a dropped long fly ball with the bases loaded.

If not for the drop of the sacrifice fly that let all three runners score, Fletcher would have allowed three less runs and thrown six less pitches in the inning. In that case, he’d have been at 74 pitches through four, which might have led Hudlow to let him at least begin the fifth – with what would have been a 5-2 lead – to give him the possibility of completing five innings and potentially qualifying for the win.

Fletcher notched four strikeouts, but also handed out six bases on balls and had two deliveries hit Crush batters while making 80 pitches overall.

Koby Linder, a North Central Missouri College pitcher from Green Castle who took over on the hill when the Meadville product departed, picked up credit for the victory.

The Mudcats are both on the road and playing at “home” tonight, weather permitting.

As it has every year since 2013, the Chillicothe-based team is playing one of its slated “home” games at Trenton’s Burleigh Grimes Field this evening, hosting the Sedalia Bombers in a league game. Game time will be 7:05 p.m.

The Fish then will play the Nevada (Mo.) Griffons at their normal home – “Chuck” Haney Field in Shaffer Park Stadium – at 7:05 p.m. both Friday and Saturday.

Given his solid showing in his debut, it’s very possible Fletcher could work again, either as a starter or in relief, in any of those three games.

After Fletcher left last Saturday’s contest, Kalamazoo, Mich., resident Josh Swinehart, the Mudcats’ center fielder, ripped his second home run of the game over the left-field wall of “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium to highlight a 3-runs Chillicothe sixth inning that broke the tie and paved the way for the team’s inaugural triumph of the season.

Swinehart also drove a first-inning pitch over the fence in left for a solo homer, so his sixth-inning shot made him the first Mudcat ever to hit two ball out of the spacious park in the same contest in the club’s 19-years history. He drove in three runs and scored four times.

The 6’3”, 200-pounds, righthanded-swinging Swinehart, who attends Western Michigan University in his hometown, joins Garrett Bass, a 2005-06 Fish and son of 1980s major league outfielder Kevin Bass, as the only Mudcats ever to have two home runs in a home game. One of Bass’ June 11, 2005, roundtrippers was an inside-the-park home run, however. 

Swinehart’s pair of circuit clouts made him the 11th Fish ever with a multiple-home-runs game, the previous-most-recent of which came on June 15, 2019, when Jack Grace walloped a team-record-equaling three in a game at Springfield against the Ozark Generals.

One night later, a 12th name was added to that list.

Lefthanded-hitting outfielder Greyson Barrett (Bakersfield, Calif./Texas Wesleyan U.) pounded a pair out of Nevada’s Lyons Stadium in a 12-10 victory.

That marked yet another “first” in Mudcats history – this time, the first occasion of consecutive games in which Chillicothe had players with multi-homers games.

Even with Barrett’s bombs and near-record-tying six runs batted in, a field notoriously hard to hold leads on played to form.

The blazing start with Chillicothe’s batters against Griffons starting pitcher Atley Jacome was, by a margin of only an inch or two, nearly nullified at the finish line by the home team.

Keyed by Barrett’s 2-runs shot down the right-field line as the second batter of the game, the Mudcats seized a 3-0 lead after an inning and ballooned it to 9-1 after 2-1/2 frames on two runs in the second and four in the third, highlighted by Chillicothean Wes Brandsgaard’s 2-runs double to the fence in left-center field.

When Mudcats starting pitcher Jake Young (Lisle, Ill., Fairmont State U.), despite occasional control lapses, made it through six innings with only three runs allowed on two hits and Barrett pounded another drive over the fence in right following walks to Nos. 8 and 9 batters Brandsgaard and Petey Taylor in the top of the seventh, the visitors seemed to have things locked down, 12-3.

It wasn’t.

Nevada scored four times against Chillicothe relief pitcher Jake Gernon in its seventh after a 2-outs grounder ticked off the end of Gernon’s glove for an infield hit that soon was followed by a 3-runs double and a run-scoring error. Had the Mudcats hurler’s left arm or glove been an inch or two longer and the comebacker either lodged in the glove’s webbing or been knocked down at the mound, the batter likely would have been thrown out, ending the inning with no runs.

When Gernon threw a mostly-uneventful eighth inning, the Mudcats seemed to have steadied the ship, especially when the first two Nevada batters of the ninth were retired on routine fly balls to right field.

However, a walk was followed by a clean single to center field on a 0-2 pitch. Another walk – after a 9-pitch at-bat – loaded the bases in the still 12-7 game.

A sharply-hit ground ball right at the second baseman – potentially for the final out – went off the fielder’s glove and into the outfield as two more runs scored. That brought the potential tying run to the plate.

A wild pitch let another run score and removed the potential forceout at second base, but reliever Tanner Sears, another North Central Missouri College player, completed a swinging strikeout of the batter on the next delivery, finally closing out the Chillicothe win.

The Chillicothe squad had dropped to 0-2 overall and in the MINK League last Friday when it lost its road opener at Clarinda, Iowa, 10-4.

Just as in their loss to the Iowa club at home two nights earlier, the Mudcats issued too many walks and hit too many batters. In addition, after being shut out the last six innings of the preceding contest, they were blanked for the first five of the game at Clarinda, falling behind 7-0 after five innings before the bats began perking up late.