The St. Joseph Mustangs couldn’t hang on to game one of the M.I.N.K. League Championship Series Thursday, falling 8-7 in 10 innings at Jefferson City. Now on the brink of elimination, the Mustangs need consecutive home wins on Friday and Saturday to claim their ninth championship. They accomplished such a feat last summer after falling behind the Joplin Outlaws 1-0 in the series.
St. Joe wasted no time at the plate, scoring four runs across the game!s first two innings. In the first, back-to-back singles from shortstop Cole Slibowski and right fielder Brayden Luikart allowed a double play to score the opening run. An inning later, Slibowski plated a run with a groundout before Luikart knocked in two with a bloop single to left.
Though starting pitcher Tyson Hilsabeck pitched well out of the gate, he hit a wall in the third and fourth innings. Jefferson City batted around and tied the game with four runs in the bottom of the third. The Renegades then took a 5-4 lead with nobody out in the fourth, but Hilsabeck cut off the damage with a double play and strikeout to end his outing.
The Mustang offense responded in the fifth, rallying with two outs and nobody on. A walk and two singles brought second baseman Noah Bodenhausen to the plate for a bases-loaded, game-tying walk.
At that point, Hilsabeck gave way to right-handed Camden Lutz for a stellar relief outing. He struck out three in the fifth and ended both the sixth and seventh innings with double-play balls. In the top of the seventh, St. Joe again made magic with two away, working with a man on first. Slibowski eventually came through with the bases loaded, singling home two for a 7-5 lead.
Jefferson City would push back in the eighth, finding a two-out, two-run single of their own. With the game tied at seven, right-hander Ryker Curry, the Mustangs’ best statistical reliever, entered the game. After third baseman Ryan Callahan made a key stop and throw to record the first out at second base, the Renegades loaded the bases with two down. With game one on the line, Curry induced a grounder to second, where Bodenhausen smoothly made the play.
All seemed to be quiet in the 10th, as St. Joe went down in order and Curry retired the first two Renegades. But a two-out walk would change everything. With the winning run at first, Kevin Sanchez dug in for his first at-bat of the night after entering as a pinch runner.
Sanchez drove a ball to straightaway right field, where the fence is only about 320 feet from home plate. Brayden Luikart sped back to the wall and jumped high in the air, but the ball missed his glove and bounced away. As the right fielder struggled to regain his bearings after colliding with both the fence and the baseball, the winning run crossed home plate.
The Mustangs and Renegades will play game two of the series at 7 p.m. Friday at Phil Welch Stadium. Left-hander Aron Harrington is projected to take the ball for St. Joe.