The St. Joseph Mustangs moved within half a game of first place in the M.I.N.K. League’s North Division Thursday. Taking a first-inning lead and never letting it go, St. Joe toppled the Carroll Merchants 6-2. With their third consecutive victory, the Mustangs are now 2-0 against the North’s front-runner, 9-5 overall and 8-5 in league play.
Numerous players stepped forward for a Mustangs team rapidly building significant depth. On the mound, left-hander Frank Gall delivered the team’s third consecutive quality start, allowing one run in six innings. Right-hander Braden Berry carried the baton home, earning the save with three innings of one-run baseball.
Behind the arms, St. Joe played fabulous defense over the game’s first six innings. Second baseman Noah Bodenhausen made an outstanding catch to end the second, tumbling into shallow left-center on a shallow jam shot. Left fielder Easton Bruce made a handful of fine, running grabs. Shortstop Cole Slibowski showed off his range and accuracy, most notably on a key double play ball in the fifth.
The middle of the St. Joe lineup proved equally potent at the plate. Making their season debuts, first baseman Ryan Callahan and third baseman Jeremy Rader occupied the third and fifth spots, respectively. The two combined for three hits, two runs batted in and two runs scored. In between them, designated hitter Ike Book drove in a season-high three runs.
In their 5-4 defeat of Carroll on June 6, the Mustangs didn’t score until the eighth inning. In Thursday’s game, they wasted no time. With Slibowski at second, Callahan saw nine pitches before hammering an RBI triple to right-center. Book then brought him home on a sacrifice fly to left.
Carroll cut the St. Joe lead in half on an automatic double in the top of the third. But the Mustangs quickly rebuilt the lead to 3-1 on the fourth. An Ike Book double put two runners in scoring position with nobody out, setting up Rader for an RBI single.
Overall, the Merchants went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-3 with the bases loaded. Their woes began in the fifth. Having already reached base twice, Bryce Yosko stepped in with the bases juiced and one out. He rolled over to short, where Slibowski began the aforementioned 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
After Gall departed, Carroll levied an even stronger threat in the seventh. Two walks and two errors brought in a run, again loading the bases with one out for the middle part of the Merchants’ order. With the tying run 90 feet away, Carroll couldn’t move the ball past the pitcher’s mound and remained down by a run.
In the bottom half of the seventh, St. Joe punished the Merchants for their missed opportunities. Loading the bases with one out, the Mustangs found the three runs which Carroll had fallen short of all night long. After center fielder Brayden Luikart hit a sacrifice fly, Book roped a two-run single to right. Suddenly, a one-run game had morphed into a 6-2 lead for the Mustangs.
From there, Berry retired six of the final seven Carroll hitters, striking out two along the way. The Mustangs will look to further extend their win streak Friday at 7 p.m. in a home date with the Jefferson City Renegades.