CLINTON — After a rough first inning, Nick Neidert settled into a groove that sent him on his way to his best outing of the season.
The right-hander pitched six innings, allowing just five hits, walking one and striking out a career-high 12. The Clinton LumberKings got a big third inning that propelled them to a 6-1 win over the Kane County Cougars to begin the second half of the Midwest League baseball season.
The Cougars struck first in an uncharacteristic first inning from Neidert. After giving up a leadoff single to Galli Cribbs, Neidert walked Zach Nehrir on four pitches. Austin Byler then hit a potential double play ground ball to second that Chris Mariscal couldn’t field cleanly initially. Mariscal recovered in time to toss to second to get a force, but his throw sailed wide of shortstop Rayder Ascanio covering the bag. The error scored Cribbs to get the Cougars on the board. However, Neidert allowed no more runs in that inning.
Clinton struck back in the bottom of the first in a strange way, as Luis Liberato led off the game with a pop up in front of home plate that catcher Frank Christy dropped. Liberato got to second on an Alex Young wild pitch, and then to third on Ascanio’s ground out. Ricky Eusebio stepped in with a chance to drive home Liberato but didn’t need to, as another Young wild pitch brought home Liberato to tie the game.
Neidert allowed doubles in the second and third but neither man scored, as he struck out four combined in those frames. At that point he had seven strikeouts, and would add five more over the next three innings. His 12-strikeout performance eclipsed his previous career-high of five set in his last start, and after allowing a leadoff single to Gerard Hernandez in the fourth, he retired the last nine men that he faced.
“I had my slider and changeup working for me tonight, and I had a good fastball,” Neidert said. “I was able to hit my spots and I felt good. The first inning, I was a little shaky, but I gained confidence after the second inning. Every inning after that, I got more confident and was able to hit my spots a lot better.”
With the game tied at one in the third, the LumberKings put together what would be the game deciding rally. Arturo Nieto and Mariscal singled back to back to lead off the fourth, which brought up Luis Liberato. He hit a high chopped to the first base side of the infield that nicked the top of first baseman Austin Byler’s glove and rolled into right field. It scored Nieto, moved Mariscal to third, and Liberato took second with aggressive base running. Rayder Ascanio’s ground out scored Mariscal to make it 3-1.
Dalton Kelly with two outs blooped a ball right to third base that Fernery Ozuna thought was over his head, but it ended up landing right in front of him and allowed Liberato to score, extending the lead to 4-1.
The LumberKings added two more runs, but they needed no more. After Neidert exited, Dylan Silva and Matt Walker combined to face the minimum over the last three, sealing the win for the LumberKings.
Kane County and Clinton also played last weekend to close out the first half of the season.
“The energy against those guys are pretty good, and we know that’s a team we can’t sleep on,” Neidert said.
LUMBERKINGS 6, COUGARS 1
Kane County ab r h bi Clinton ab r h bi
Cribbs 2b 4 1 2 0 Liberato cf 4 3 3 2
Nehrir cf 3 0 0 0 Ascanio ss 3 0 1 2
Byler 1b 4 0 1 0 Eusebio lf 3 0 0 0
Mitsui dh 4 0 0 0 Kelly 1b 3 0 1 1
Heyman rf 4 0 1 0 Jackson rf 4 0 0 0
Ozuna 3b 4 0 0 0 Taylor 3b 4 0 1 0
Hernandez 3 0 1 0 Hale dh 4 1 1 0
Christy c 3 0 0 0 Nieto c 4 1 2 0
Flores ss 3 0 0 0 Mariscal 2b 3 1 1 0
Totals 32 1 5 0 Totals 32 6 10 5
Kane County 100 000 000 — 1
Clinton 103 100 10x — 6
E — Christy (2), Young (1), McCullough (1), Mariscal (5). LOB — Kane County 5, Clinton 5. DP — Clinton 2. 2B — Cribbs (4), Byler (2), Liberato 2 (11). SF — Ascanio. SB — Nehrir (8), Byler (2). CS — Hernandez (1).
IP H R ER BB SO
Young L 2-1 6 9 5 4 0 8
McCullough 2 1 1 1 2 2
Neidert W 4-1 6 5 1 1 1 12
Silva 2 0 0 0 0 2
Walker 1 0 0 0 0 1
WP — Young 2, McCullough. U — Ryan Wilhelms (p), Vince Jackson (b). T — 2:32. A — 5,135.