Julio Morban tripled home two runs and scored on a sacrifice fly by Stefen Romero in the eighth inning, but the Clinton comeback fell a run short as Cedar Rapids held on for a 6-5 victory Thursday night in Midwest League baseball at Alliant Energy Field.
The loss, combined with Beloit’s 6-4 win against Wisconsin, trimmed the LumberKings’ lead for the wild-card spot in the Western Division second-half standings to three games.
Kernels first baseman Ricky Alvarez belted a three-run home run in the seventh inning and plated four runs on the night, finishing 2 for 5.
LumberKings left-hander Tony Butler (1-3) surrendered three runs on nine hits, walked one and struck out eight in a quality outing but still took the loss.
The Kernels took a 1-0 lead in the first inning as Travis Witherspoon smacked a solo home run over the left-field fence. Alvarez added a two-out RBI single to left that scored Rolando Gomez in the third, raising the advantage to 2-0.
The LumberKings picked up their only hit and run off Kernels starter A.J. Schugel (4-3) in the bottom of the third. John Hicks reached on an error by third baseman Brian Hernandez and scored on a two-out flare single to right by Mike McGee.
Jeremy Cruz ripped a two-out double off the mitt of Morban in left to score Gomez in the fifth, putting the Kernels back ahead by two.
Right-hander Ben Versnik retired his first batter in the seventh but then yielded a single to Witherspoon and walked Gomez. He exited in favor of right-hander John Taylor, who retired Cruz but then served up a towering three-run blast to Alvarez. That shot opened up a 6-1 lead for the Kernels.
Still, the LumberKings battled back against right-hander Manny Correa. Stefen Romero singled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Kalian Sams in the seventh inning to cut the deficit to 6-2. In the eighth, Anthony Phillips doubled into the left-field corner and McGee singled into right, setting the table for Morban. His drive to the alley in right-center ended up a two-run triple, his team-leading sixth three-base hit of the year. Romero then narrowly missed a game-tying two-run homer to left, settling for a sacrifice fly that made it a 6-5 Kernels lead.
The comeback ended there, however, as Correa struck out Tim Morris to end the eighth and right-hander Daniel Tillman (S, 12) retired three straight batters in the ninth to end the game. Kevin Rivers stepped to the plate with two outs to pinch hit for Matt Browning, but he struck out on three pitches.
McGee went 2 for 4 with a run scored and an RBI for Clinton. Witherspoon (3 for 4) and Cruz (3 for 5) joined Alvarez in leading the offense for Cedar Rapids.
The LumberKings (24-22) take on the Kernels (19-27) in the rubber match of the three-game series at 7 tonight. Right-hander Stephen Kohlscheen (2-3, 5.52 ERA), the reigning Midwest League Pitcher of the Week, gets the start for Clinton against Cedar Rapids right-hander P.J. Jang (1-4, 4.38).