By Brenden West
Assistant Sports Editor
CLINTON — Ketel Marte led off with a rough start.
Clinton’s first batter Tuesday poked a blooper into shallow left field. The ball bounced below Beloit outfielder Brett Vertigan’s glove and Marte should’ve reached first safely. Instead, he was called out — Marte explained afterward he thought he popped out, so he veered off the base path and strolled between second and first base. Since he failed to touch a bag, the Snappers escaped the first inning without harm.
“I thought he had the catch,” Marte said. “I was really confused when I rounded the base. I didn’t hear (the umpire) say anything.”
Luckily, for him — and the LumberKings — Marte found redemption.
A 3-3 game carried into extra innings Tuesday night at Ashford University Field. In the 10th, with Tim Lopes on second and one out, Marte grounded it through the right side. Lopes rounded third and beat the home tag for a 4-3 Clinton walk-off win.
“It feels so good, so happy,” a relieved Marte afterward said.
Had he not come through, it might have meant an ugly fourth consecutive LumberKings loss. Lopes was the 10th Clinton batter to reach scoring position since the fourth inning; until the final frame, not a single one of those players reached home. In all, the LumberKings stranded 14 runners over 10 innings, including all three in a bases-loaded seventh.
“Bottom line, you have to execute,” manager Eddie Menchaca said. “If you get on, you might as well score, right? It’s all about keeping your approach and not trying to do too much. We were just swinging at too many pitchers’ pitches.”
The LumberKings were first on the board when Lopes lined a second-inning single to right scoring Taylor Ard from third. The Snappers tied it in their next at-bat off a Renato Nunez RBI single, then took a 2-1 lead in the fourth with Matt Olson’s leadoff home run.
Clinton starting pitcher Scott DeCecco began the game with four strikeouts in the first two innings and finished with a season-high seven strikeouts. But after giving up the third Beloit run in the top of the sixth, he was pulled in favor of reliever Mark Bordonaro, the team trailing 3-1.
The LumberKings’ bullpen made a rare show of dominance, holding the Snappers scoreless the rest of the night. It allowed two of Clinton’s power hitters to tie things up in the bottom of the sixth.
On a one-out, 1-0 pitch, newcomer D.J. Peterson punctuated his home debut with a solo shot that reached the hill beyond left field, his second home run since joining Clinton last week. Six pitches later, Ard drove a full-count pitch out of the yard. The back-to-back jacks tied the game 3-3 and ended Beloit starter Dylan Covey’s day.
“I just entered today not trying to do too much,” Peterson said. Before Tuesday, he’d managed two hits in 21 at-bats with a sub-.100 batting average. “I have a lot of things to work on. It’s still a struggle for me at times, but I’m making adjustments.”
Ard said: “I went off of what they tried to do to me in the previous at-bat. I knew they were going to try to go back inside since that’s where they jammed me last time. I got my pitch and put a good swing on it.”
Relievers Bordonaro, Richard Vargas and Oliver Garcia combined for more than four innings of one-hit shutout baseball, highlighted by Bordonaro’s 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts. Offensively, though, the LumberKings couldn’t get over the hump.
The frustrating drought with runners in scoring position boiled over when Ard struck out to end the seventh with bases loaded. After whiffing on strike three, he snapped the same bat he homered with in his previous plate appearance.
“We have to capitalize whenever we can score runs,” Ard said. “Anytime we win a game that’s good, but we left a lot of runners on tonight.”
Ard led the team with two runs alongside Lopes’ three hits, a run and an RBI.
“We’ve been pretty good all year, but now that it’s the last month of the season, it seems like we’re pressing a little bit more trying to make the playoffs,” Menchaca said, adding that he feels the team has slumped offensively of late.
Tuesday’s win ended Clinton’s three-game skid following a weekend series sweep in Cedar Rapids. At 17-20, the LumberKings are 2 1/2 games behind Peoria for the final Midwest League West playoff spot with 33 games to go.
They’ll look to get a winning streak going in tonight’s game vs. Beloit at 7.