By Tom Schultz For the Herald
The Clinton Herald
---- — Saturday’s weather was cooperative after wet conditions pushed back the Clinton Lumberkings 2013 home opener for two days. The Cedar Rapids Kernels weren’t so forgiving, though, sweeping the LumberKings 4-3 and 3-2 in a Midwest League baseball doubleheader.
Finally getting a nice day for baseball Sunday, the LumberKings claimed the first home win of the year and earned a split in another doubleheader with the Kernels at Ashford University Field. The LumberKings won the opener 3-2 but lost the second game 7-6.
The Kernels set the tone early Sunday with five straight hits to open the top of the first inning.
But, although it took awhile, the LumberKings finally got things going.
On offense, the Lumberkings were faced with the challenge of piercing the armor of Kernels starter Tyler Duffy, who in his first start threw seven perfect innings against Beloit. In the second, Clinton made a dent with the first baserunner against Duffy this season when Patrick Kivlehan’s patience drew him a walk. But a ground ball up the middle by Gaby Guerrero on a hit-and-run handed the double play right to the Kernels.
Clinton finally got to Duffy in the fourth inning and later ran him from the mound in the sixth inning when it took the lead.
Dario Pizzano broke up the hitless streak that Duffy had going with a leadoff single into left in the bottom of the fourth inning. Guillermo Pimentel quickly followed with a home run down the right-field line, breaking his personal slump of seven straight strikeouts against the Kernels.
In the sixth, the Kings chased Duffy with two two-out hits, putting runners on first and third with Taylor Ard coming to bat. Ard had ripped Duffy’s previous two offerings for outs, but Cedar Rapids pulled Duffy for Matt Tomshaw, who quickly gave up an RBI single to Ard, giving the Lumberkings the 3-2 lead.
The top of the seventh started ominously for Clinton as winning pitcher Dylan Unsworth gave up a leadoff hit to Travis Harrison on the first pitch. But the hit was erased on a double play off the bat of Romy Jiminez. Unsworth struck out Jairo Rodriguez to get the complete-game victory for the Lumberkings.
“Unsworth did a great job for us,” Clinton manager Eddie Menchaca said. “That’s all you want out of a doubleheader — for him to kind of keep the game close and keep his pitch count down, which he did.”
In the second game, a laser of a home run from Dalton Hicks to right field chased Lumberking starter Oliver Garcia in the second inning. The three-run home run likely dented the side of the shed out in right at Ashford University Field, giving the Kernels the 4-0 lead.
After a long weekend, neither starter lasted long. Both managers went to their bullpens in the second inning.
Cedar Rapids had built a 7-0 lead going into the bottom of the fifth inning, but the Lumberkings got started in the bottom half putting up a four-spot to chip away at the lead.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids here with a lot of talent,” Menchaca said. “We’re going to fight. I think we’ve shown that all since we’ve started the season; these kids are going to battle. We’ve got a good clubhouse; we’ve got good team chemistry.”
The Kernels committed three errors in the inning, which combined with a sacrifice fly netted Clinton four runs. The Lumberkings followed that up by throwing out No. 2 overall draft pick Byron Buxton on an attempted steal in the top of the sixth and striking out the side.
In the bottom half of the sixth, the Lumberkings continued to be a thorn in the side of Cedar Rapids relievers by trotting across two more runs to make it a 7-6 game. Another error by the Kernels defense allowed the Lumberkings to make it a one-run game, all after two outs.
The Lumberkings ran out of gas in the seventh, however, going down in order to end the game and drop 3 of 4 in the two doubleheaders.
“We showed some fight in all four games,” Menchaca said. “The season is still young, so we’ve seen a lot of good things.”
The LumberKings and Kernels saw something Saturday that they hadn’t seen in days.
The sun made a couple of appearances during the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, and it seemed as if the Lumberkings were going to have a good day against the Kernels.
The first inning started out promising for Clinton as it put two runs on the board with one swing of the bat from third baseman Patrick Kivlehan. Kernels pitcher Hudson Boyd gave up a single to Dario Pizzano and struck out Guillermo Pimentel before going to a full count against Kivlehan, but he put the 3-2 pitch right in Kivlehan’s wheelhouse, and Kivlehan sent it over the left-field fence for the early lead.
Unfortunately, Clinton’s pitching staff couldn’t hold onto it.
In the fourth inning, Clinton starter Matt Anderson couldn’t find the strike zone, walking three of the next four hitters after the first out and giving up a double to Niko Goodrum. An RBI single from Buxton spelled the end of Anderson’s night.
The Lumberkings brought in Dominic Leone to relieve Anderson, and he promptly uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the Kernels third run to score, giving them the lead. Leone walked the next two batters, bringing another run across the plate for Cedar Rapids, before inducing a groundout from Hicks.
Small ball in the bottom of the fifth inning from the Lumberkings closed the gap to 4-3, but that was as close as they would get. Walks and missed opportunities hurt the Lumberkings in the one-run loss as they had opportunities in the sixth and sevent but could not execute.
“Yesterday was tough for us,” Mechaca said on Sunday. “We couldn’t get our runners in from third. We had our chances.”
In Game 2, the first inning started shaky for both teams. Kings starter Tyler Pike took some time to find the plate, walking the first two batters. Those were followed by an RBI single from Jorge Polanco and an RBI double from Hicks to put the Kernels on top first.
The Lumberkings responded in kind with a run of their own on a towering home run by leadoff man Jabari Henry.
Both pitchers came out ready in the second inning, mowing down hitters, and neither team scored again.
Pike and Matt Vedo combined to put down 14 of the next 15 hitters including a streak of 10 in a row. Kernels starter Mason Melotakis one-upped the Lumberkings, mowing down 13 batters in a row, seven on strikeouts.
Online: See more photos from Sunday's doubleheader online at Clintonherald.smugline.com