MARION, Ill. — If you were watching the Rascals’ season as a binged season of TV on Netflix, you would undoubtedly roll your eyes in exasperation at the dramatic swings it has taken. And yet, here we are. The River City Rascals held on in the ninth inning to beat the Southern Illinois Miners 3-2 and win their divisional series 3-1. The Rascals move on to the Frontier League Championship Series out of the final wild-card spot, and by far the most dominant team during the regular season has had their season ended prematurely yet again.
River City wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if not for an 11-game August winning streak and winning their final regular season game in that very same ballpark less than a week earlier. To win this series, they had to match the win total of their 3-9 record against Southern Illinois during the regular season.
The game built drama in true Hollywood fashion.
Dan Ludwig was on the mound for the Rascals to face his old team for the second time in a week. He and his counterpart Jarret Miller held the offenses scoreless for the first three frames. In the top of the fourth, River City struck first.
With two outs in their half of the fourth, Kyle Gaedele reached on a single. Jason Merjano worked a full count and then hit a two-homerun to take the lead for River City.
The Miners countered in the bottom of the frame. Ludwig got wild, walking two and hitting another. Those miscues along with a pair of singles tied the game 2-2.
The Rascals countered the counter in the next half-inning. Johnny Morales led off with a walk and got all the way to third on an error by Brooks Trujillo. Josh Ludy drove Morales home as what would turn out to be the game-winning run with a single.
Ludwig gave way to the bullpen after six innings and throwing more than 100 pitches for the second straight start. Nick Kennedy and Shane Street combined for a scoreless seventh inning. Manager Steve Brook called on closer Zac Treece to get six outs for the two-inning save and a trip back to the Championship Series.
It was a rocky start, as Treece gave up a leadoff double after getting up 1-2 on Shane Kennedy. However, Treece was able to get out of the inning unscathed with a strikeout, flyout and groundout. Before the Rascals could celebrate, the Miners threatened to extend the game and series one more time. Treece led off the final frame with a groundout to third before Kurt Wetz Jr. smoked a triple over the head of center fielder Alex Colon. Treece, the Rascals most consistent pitcher, struck out the next batter Brandon Cummins on a curveball that broke right back into the heart of the plate looking. The Miners last hope with the tying run just 90 feet away was pinch hitter Riley Moore. Treece set off the celebration by getting Moore to ground out harmlessly to second base after falling behind 2-0.
@rcrascals upset the Miners to advance to their third consecutive @FLProBaseball championship series. https://t.co/qrNcstFyr5
The celebration was a mix of jubilance and incredulity. It was more Jimmy Valvano than classic College World Series dogpile. But can you blame them? It’s a story you wouldn’t believe even if it was on the screen in front of you.
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