With a chance to make franchise history, the Clinton LumberKings close the home portion of the regular season in Midwest League baseball tonight.
The LumberKings tied the franchise record for wins in a half Thursday night by beating Burlington 3-1 at Ashford University Field. In the 76-year history of the franchise, only the 1963 Clinton C-Sox and the 1993 Clinton Giants had won 44 games in a half until Thursday. Both of those teams did it in the first half.
Stellar pitching and clutch hitting has been key for the LumberKings in the second half, and it was more of the same in front of 5,345 fans Thursday, the largest crowd of the season.
Clinton starter Jordan Pries didn’t allow a base runner until he hit Bobby Crocker with a 2-2 fastball with one out in the fifth inning.
The LumberKings scored the first run of the night in their half of the fifth. Jamal Austin singled with two outs and promptly stole second base. One of the hottest hitters in minor league baseball, Dan Paolini, followed with a single to right field to score Austin for a 1-0 lead.
Burlington came back with a run against Pries in the sixth. Wade Kirkland walked and was sacrificed to second by Nick Rickles. A throwing error by catcher David Villasuso allowed Kirkland to scoot to third. With a drawn-in infield, Aaron Shipman hit a ground ball to Paolini at second. He threw home to Villasuso, but Kirkland ran him over to pry the ball loose.
It was a 1-1 game and the Bees were still without a hit until the next batter, Addison Russell, singled to left field. Pries limited the damage to just the one run by striking out John Wooten and retiring Crocker on a groundout to end the inning.
Villasuso, who came on for Mike Dowd in the sixth inning, got the last laugh. He launched a solo home run to break the 1-1 tie in the seventh inning. Later in the inning, Jamal Austin reached on a fielder’s choice and again stole second base. It was déjà vu as Paolini drove him in with a base hit to deliver an insurance run. Paolini is hitting .500 (20 for 40) in his past nine games and has 35 RBIs in the month of August.
The 3-1 lead was safe in the hands of Kyle Hunter and Josh Corrales, as the two combined for three scoreless innings of relief. Hunter earned his fourth win of the year, and Corrales got his first save when he struck out Rickles to end it.
The LumberKings go for the all-time franchise mark for wins in a half in the series finale at 6:30 tonight. Fans have an opportunity to win general admission season tickets for the 2013 season and enjoy postgame fireworks.
Clinton closes the regular season with three games in Cedar Rapids, then returns home Wednesday to open the Midwest League playoffs. Tickets for that game are available at the Ashford University Field box office or by calling (563) 242-0727.