By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — His players showed their generosity Wednesday night, and it wasn’t something Clinton LumberKings manager Eddie Menchaca was all that happy to see.
A 3-0 lead disappeared about as quickly as it was built, and before long it became a deficit as Dayton defeated Clinton 11-7 in Midwest League baseball at Ashford University Field. Only five of the Dragons’ runs were earned, and the LumberKings hit into two double plays and left nine runners on base.
“Obviously, our errors were the difference in the ballgame,” Menchaca said.
It didn’t take long for things to get out of hand, either. No sooner had the LumberKings scored three runs in the bottom of the third inning, then Clinton starter Tyler Pike began to struggle.
“He was trying to pitch through an injury — which in one aspect was good and another was bad,” Menchaca said.
Nick O’Shea singled to lead off the Dayton fourth and Joe Hudson followed with a walk. Next came the first defensive letdown. Junior Arias hit a potential double-play ball to Clinton shortstop Ketel Marte, but Marte’s throw whizzed right past second baseman Tim Lopes. O’Shea scored on Lopes’ error, and Hudson advanced to third.
Hudson scored the second run on Seth Mejias-Brean’s sacrifice fly, then Arias stole second and Brent Peterson was hit by a pitch. That was the end of the night for Pike.
David Holman replaced Pike and got off to a promising start when Arias was erased on the front side of a double-steal attempt. But Peterson, who moved up a base on the out, advanced to third on a wild pitch, then scored the tying run on a single by Zach Vincej.
“That deflates a team,” Menchaca said of seeing a three-run inning answered in kind.
Dayton took control in the following inning, when the LumberKings lost control and allowed four unearned runs.
Third baseman Patrick Kivlehan committed back-to-back throwing errors, the first on a plate at home plate, and Mejias-Brean capped the inning with a three-run double.
“I think our momentum changed after they scored four,” Menchaca said. “I sensed it on the bench; I sensed it in the body language.”
The Clinton offense, which produced 14 hits, kept trying to rally. But, each time, the Dragons responded.
“We battled and had chances,” Menchaca said. “We hit balls hard.”
Clinton loaded the bases in the sixth, but after Taylor Ard hit a single to score one, Marte hit into an inning-ending double play.
Dayton stretched its lead to 9-4 in the seventh on a home run by Arias, but Guillermo Pimentel did the same in the bottom half of the inning. Unfortunately for Clinton, his shot into the LumberLounge in right field came after a double play.
The Kings scored again in the seventh on Dario Pizzano’s single, but Dayton got that run back in the top of the eighth. An RBI double by Jabari Henry pulled Clinton within 10-7 in the bottom of the eighth, but the Dragons answered with one in the ninth.
Clinton even gave the fans a ray of hope in the bottom of the ninth, when Kivlehan and Pizzano hit consecutive one-out singles. After a groundout, Jordy Lara put some excitement in the crowd when he smacked a line drive to left field, but Amaral made a diving catch to end the game.
“I thought he had a good chance (to catch it),” Menchaca said of his viewing advantage from the third-base coaching box. “But, I knew that (diving) was his only chance.”
One bright spot for Clinton was the continued surge at the plate by Henry. He extended his hitting streak to six games when his third-inning single brought in the first run and helped Clinton build a 3-0 lead. He is batting .397 for the year.
“It’s so much fun,” Henry said of the zone he has been in. In the past nine games, he has 16 hits in 30 at-bats (.533 batting average), with 10 runs scored and nine RBIs. His double in the eighth was fifth in that span, and he walked twice to raise his total there to 13 in those nine games for a .674 on-base percentage.
“I’ve been working with Chaca and our hitting coach, Mike Kinkade, and they said to stay inside the ball. It looks like it’s working. Early in the season, I was hitting the ball hard. Now, I’m finding holes.”
Henry’s third-inning single followed a leadoff single by Lara, a walk to Taylor Ard and Marte’s sacrifice bunt. The next two batters, Lopes and Pimentel, added run-scoring singles.
Clinton and Dayton play Game 2 of their series at 6:30 tonight.