The St. Joseph Mustangs are M.I.N.K. League North Division Champions once again after a 6-0 takedown of the Clarinda A’s Tuesday night. They will face the Jefferson City Renegades in the league championship series, which begins Thursday.
After dropping five out of seven regular-season meetings to Clarinda, the Mustangs took full advantage of the postseason’s clean slate. Starting pitcher Mason Holton threw the game of his life, striking out a Mustangs season-high 11 during a complete game shutout. Including only full-capacity outings, the two-way force finished his summer on the bump with four consecutive quality starts.
Once Holton began piling up zeros, the St. Joe offense joined in, setting the tone of the game with a five-run fourth inning. All five of those runs were charged to Clarinda starter Luke Spencer, who had allowed just one run in his previous 19 innings against the Mustangs.
Both teams had opportunities to score throughout the game’s first three innings, but crisp defense held the scoreless tie. In the bottom of the first, St. Joe put two on with two out before shortstop Cole Slibowski was caught attempting to steal third. Slibowski countered in the second, leading an inning-ending double play with A’s on the corners.
The Mustangs opened their half of the second with back-to-back singles, but catcher Ben Click was cut down while trying to stretch his into a double. Still, left fielder Easton Bruce lurked at third with one out. He attempted to score on an ensuing ground ball, but an excellent tag at home plate held the game scoreless. In the top of the third, Click made amends for his out on the basepaths, throwing out a would-be base-stealer after a leadoff walk.
After Holton picked off a man to end the top of the fourth, the Mustangs finally broke through. The bottom of the frame opened with a hit-by-pitch and single ahead of Bruce, who would wrap a two-run double just inside the right-field line. Two walks then loaded the bases for Slibowski, who was hit in the helmet with Spencer’s final pitch of the season. Finally, center fielder Brayden Luikart banged a two-run single into right, extending the St. Joe lead to 5-0.
With run support aplenty, Mason Holton pitched as comfortably as ever in the game’s middle innings. He retired 13 of the next 14 opposing hitters after the five-run fourth, punching out three in the seventh inning. In that frame, Bruce widened the scoring gap with his third hit of the evening, a bases-loaded single to left.
As Holton made his way toward 113 pitches and navigated the ninth, the crowd of 2,707 at Phil Welch Stadium pushed him to the finish line. After his 10th strikeout moved him within an out of glory, the Mustangs faithful rose to their feet. Sure enough, Holton rewarded them with a game-ending strikeout.
As the overall number one seed, St. Joseph will host games two and three of the championship series. The Mustangs will open with game one in Jefferson City Thursday at 7 p.m. Right-hander Tyson Hilsabeck (5-2, 4.28 ERA) is scheduled to take the ball for St. Joe.