CEDAR RAPIDS — Not that they’re much different from most teams in the Midwest League in that regard, the Clinton LumberKings continued to struggle against the Cedar Rapids Kernels, dropping games Saturday (5-2) and Sunday (3-1) at Perfect Game Field.
The Kernels, who had the second-best record in the Western Division in the first half and lead the standings in the second half now are 9-3 against Clinton this season, including 5-0 at home.
Clinton took a 2-0 lead Saturday but saw the Kernels rally with five unanswered runs for the win.
Charles Kaalekahi came out of the gates strong, helping Clinton establish an early lead. The LumberKings opened the scoring when Taylor Ard came home on a throwing error by Max Kepler in the third. Ard then drove in the other LumberKings’ run on a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Kepler made up for his defensive mistake with his bat. The first baseman belted a solo home run off Kaalekahi in the fifth to halve the Clinton lead to 2-1.
In the seventh, Kaalekahi reached the end of the line. A leadoff walk to Kepler came back to haunt the right-hander as Tyler Grimes tied the game with an RBI double. The next batter, Jeremias Pineda, gave Cedar Rapids its first lead with a single to bring home Grimes.
The Kernels tacked on a pair of insurance runs off Blake Holovach in the eighth inning. Adam Brett Walker roped a wall-banging double to score Mike Gonzales. Then, Kepler was at it again, with an RBI single to make the score 5-2.
Kepler didn’t let up on Sunday. He drove in Niko Goodrum in the first inning with the game’s first run off Victor Sanchez (2-5).
The LumberKings responded quickly, tying the game in the next half inning. Jordy Lara roped a double down the right-field line, the only extra-base hit on the day for Clinton. Ard then rolled a grounder to short that went right under the glove of Goodrum. The error allowed Lara to score, making it a 1-1 game.
But Kernels pitcher Mason Melotakis (9-3) stymied the Clinton lineup. The southpaw kept the LumberKings off the scoreboard besides the one unearned run in the second. Melotakis, 3-0 vs. Clinton this season, surrendered just five hits and fanned seven batters in eight innings.
The Kernels took the lead for good in the sixth inning. Pineda gave Cedar Rapids a 3-1 lead with a two-run double to score Travis Harrison and Michael Quesada.
The LumberKings and Kernels conclude their three-game series at 6:35 p.m. today. Clinton sends right-hander Rigoberto Garcia (0-2, 7.47 ERA) to the mound against Kernels right-hander Jose Berrios (6-5, 3.86).