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Growlers late rally falls short in loss to Rivets

Kalamazoo, MI – Trailing 5-0 entering the bottom of the 8th inning and already having been eliminated from Northwoods League playoff contention, the Kalamazoo Growlers had every reason to roll over in their penultimate home game and hope for a better result in the finale. Of course, if one has learned anything about the Growlers this season, it would be that there will almost always be one final comeback push. Indeed, the Growlers rallied in the bottom of the 8th and had the game tying and winning runs aboard throughout the 9th, but were unable to muster up the necessary clutch hits en route to another crushing 5-4 defeat at the hands of the Rockford Rivets at Homer Stryker Field on Saturday night.

Rockford (16-19, 33-38) got on the scoreboard first in the top of the 2nd inning against Growlers starter Blaine Fisher (Pittsburg State), as Jack Wassel (Minnesota) drove in the game’s first run.

Kalamazoo (12-23, 32-39) had chances early on in the game against Rivets starter Cory Wright (Parkland CC), stranding a pair of base runners in the bottom of the 1st  inning and leaving the bases loaded in the 3rd with Kasey Cooper (Arkansas-Fort Smith) flying out to right to end the threat.

The Rivets added another run in the 6th when David Cronin (UIC) walked to begin the frame, and then stole second and third base before coming home on an errant throw from Fisher to give the Rivets a 2-0 lead. Rockford did not wait long before adding to their lead, with Wassel hitting a solo home run to right field in the top of the 7th to make the score 3-0. In the 8th, the Rivets struck again, piecing together a few extra base hits off Fisher, with Neal Tyrell (Lewis University) doubling to begin the frame before being brought in on a Cronin triple to right center that Growlers right fielder Dan Robinson (Central Michigan) nearly made a spectacular catch on. Ryan Long (Texas Tech) hit a sacrifice fly to left field later in the frame that scored Cronin and gave the Rivets a 5-0 advantage heading into the bottom of the 8th.

Needing base runners in the frame, Connor Kopach (Southern Illinois) delivered a single to lead off the inning. After two quick fly outs, however, it seemed as though Wright, who had cruised through 7 2/3 shutout innings and had thrown less than 85 pitches would stifle any chance of a Growlers rally. Kalamazoo, however, had other ideas. With two outs, Robinson singled which moved Kopach to third. Cooper then knocked in Kopach with a line drive up the middle. After a Jay Smith (Tiffin) single to left, Darius Coldiron (Coker College) hit a two-run single to drive in Robinson and Cooper and cut the deficit to two for the Growlers entering the 9th inning. Coldiron was the final batter that Wright faced, as he was replaced by Jeff Woods (Aurora) who recorded the final out of the frame.

After Hayden Brauser (Pratt CC) threw a 1-2-3 top of the 9th, the Growlers cooked up another rally in the bottom half. Sam Griggs (Southern Indiana) was walked by Woods, and Kopach followed suit. After Kevin Phelps (Indiana-South Bend) struck out, Nick Hutchins (Southern Illinois) reached on an error by Rivets third baseman Ricardo Ramirez (UIC) to load the bases with one out for Robinson. Robinson worked the count full and then drew a walk to score Griggs and cut the Rivets lead in half to 5-4. That was as close as the Growlers would get, however, as Cooper, despite working a nine-pitch at-bat, bounced into a game ending double play turned by Long to preserve the 5-4 victory for the Rivets.

GAME NOTES

Wright threw 7 2/3 innings, allowing three earned runs and striking out just one while scattering eight hits to pick up his fifth win of the season. The five wins are second most on the Rivets only to Drake Robinson (Iowa) who has seven. Fisher threw eight innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits including a home run, and struck out three while walking two. In taking the loss, he fell to 1-2 on the season. Fisher had pitched a complete game against Rockford on Monday night, striking out three, while scattering eight hits and allowing just one run. Woods was erratic at times, but picked up his first save of the season in recording the final four outs for the Rivets.

In picking up two singles in the 1st and 3rd innings, Hutchins collected his team leading 20th multi-hit game of the season. He has had two hits in a game 11 times, three hits eight times, and four hits once. With his RBI single in the 8th, Cooper extended his season-long hitting streak to ten games, the fourth longest hitting streak by a Growler this season. When Robinson reached on a fielder’s choice in the 1st inning, he extended his on-base streak to 21 games, the longest by a Growler this season. He also holds the longest hitting streak by a Growler this season, which he recorded when he hit safely in 16 consecutive games from June 2 to June 17. Additionally, Robinson now has 54 walks for the season after reaching in the 9th inning. That is tied for the third most in the Northwoods League.

In falling 10-1 to the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters on Friday night at Witter Field, the Growlers had already been eliminated from playoff contention. They have now lost four consecutive games, and have dropped three consecutive home games. Overall, the Growlers now have a 19-16 mark at home, and a 6-8 home record in the second half of the season. They have now had three streaks of four consecutive losses or more with their longest losing streak of the season lasting five games from July 30 to August 2. The Growlers are now 0-30 when trailing after eight innings.

The Rivets have now won four consecutive games, a streak that begin when they completed a 7-6 walk off win against the Growlers at Rivets stadium on Wednesday night in their final home game of the season. They are still alive for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Northwoods League South and sit a game behind the Lakeshore Chinooks. The Rivets must win tomorrow and have Lakeshore lose to the Green Bay Bullfrogs in order to clinch a playoff berth, as they own the tiebreaker over the Chinooks as they won the season series 5-3. The Rivets have now won three consecutive road games, and hold a 16-19 mark on the road overall. In the second half, they are now 9-12 away from home. The Rivets have also already clinched a win in the season series against the Growlers as they now lead 5-2, including a sweep at Homer Stryker Field on June 16 and 17.

For their final game of the 2016 Northwoods League season, the Growlers will hand the ball to Zach Vitkuske (Muskegon CC), who will be making his third start. The Rivets will hope for a win and a Lakeshore loss so that they can secure a playoff berth, with first pitch set for 5:05 PM EST from Homer Stryker Field.

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The Kalamazoo Growlers are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 23rd season of summer collegiate baseball, the Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 150 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Lucas Duda (NYM) and Ben Zobrist (CHC). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.growlersbaseball.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store and set the Growlers as your favorite team