By Tom Schultz
For the Herald
The Clinton LumberKings were looking for the two-game sweep of the visiting Burlington Bees on Friday night after winning 7-4 on the Fourth of July. But a lack of clutch hitting kept the victory just out of reach as the Clinton fell 6-5 at Ashford University Field.
The second half of the season hadn’t been pretty for the Bees. They went into Friday’s game with a 2-12 record, while the LumberKings have had a bit more luck, playing .500 ball. Part of Burlington’s problem has been the organization's trade of outfielder Kyle Johnson, who was the spark at the top of the lineup. Johnson's replacement in the leadoff spot and in center field, Riley Good, has been having a tough time, hitting .125 going into Friday’s game, and swung at the first pitch he saw on the night sending it to right center for out No. 1.
The LumberKings couldn’t do anything in the first, either, as Burlingtons starter Reid Scoggins struck out all three batters in the inning.
The top of the second turned out to be much more forgiving for the Bees, who plated four runs off Clinton starter Victor Sanchez. Two singles and two doubles put Burlington up 2-0 and threatening more before an out was recorded. Even the outs in the inning were productive. Lumberkings third baseman Jordy Lara made a great play on a foul ball, nearly over-running it but reaching back for the catch. The popup was far enough away for the runner on third to tag up and score for the 3-0 lead.
“Both teams played solid defense; they came up with some big plays there toward the end when everything matters,” LumberKings coach Eddie Menchaca said.
The LumberKings got a break on a grounder to first when the umpire ruled Pedro Toribio out on a close play. A run did cross the plate as the Bees went up 4-0.
Clinton came back in its half of the second and nearly took the lead from the Bees, but it did knock out Scoggins in the process.
Just like Sanchez before him, Scoggins couldn’t get an out. Janelfry Zorrilla started the inning with a single, followed by a walk to Marcus Littlewood. Both were driven in by a big double to the left-center gap off the bat of Lara. A hit from Gaby Guerrero knocked Scoggins out of the game.
Burlington brought in Brandon Love to get the Bees out of the inning without relinquishing the lead. The first batter he faced, Tim Lopes, made the score 4-3 Bees with a sacrifice fly to right, but that was all the damage that Clinton would do.
The game was pretty quiet for the next three innings until Clinton tied it in the sixth starting the inning with three straight hits, including an RBI single from Lara to tie the game at 4. A passed ball later and the Lumberkings found themselves in the lead 5-4.
“We took the lead, but we just can’t come back and have them come back and score two on us. At that point we got to bear down pitching-wise,” Menchaca said.
The lead continued to see-saw back and forth as the next half inning the Bees took the lead right back on a couple of no-out hits.
Shortstop Wendell Soto led off with a triple in the corner. Some fundamental baseball brought him in to score as Toribio hit a grounder to short. The game was tied at 5 as No. 3 hitter Andrew Ray stepped to the plate. Ray wasted no time giving Burlington the lead, crushing a home run over the left-field fence.
“They executed better than us tonight,” Menchaca said.
Trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh, the Lumber Kings threatened to take the lead but came up just short against Cameron Bedrosian. A leadoff walk to Jabari Henry and a single from Ketel Marte looked promising, and a passed ball put them at second and third, but that was where it stopped. Bedrosian stopped Clinton in its tracks, getting a flyout and strikeout before inducing the ground ball to second to end the inning and the LumberKings' chance at the lead.
“I think that we need to bear down, especially late in the game. There’s games that you got to put away, there’s games that you got to win, and you don’t execute and at the end of the year you’ll be wondering what happened,” Menchaca said. “It’s those games that you had them and you just couldn’t put them away.”
The LumberKings tried again in the eighth with the same results. With runners on first and second and one out, pinch-hitter Dario Pizzano grounded into an inning-ending double play, and that was the last time that Clinton had a runner in scoring position.
Burlington brought in Kurt Spomer to finish them off, and he got the job done, securing the 6-5 win for the Bees as well as the short series split.
“It’s a well-played game from both teams; they just got the big knock there in the seventh with the solo home run,” Menchaca said.
With the loss, Clinton fell to a game under .500 in the second half at 7-8 and 40-44 overall this season. They welcome the Cedar Rapids Kernels to Ashford University Field today for the first of a three-game set.