Although it was an offensive outburst that eventually secured the win for the Madison Mallards, pitching was what won the game Wednesday night.
Tom Stilson, Stephen Dodson and Mike Creevy were all essential in delivering a 5-0 Mallards victory over the Bucks. The 865 people at Riverfront Stadium in Waterloo watched Stilson, the Madison starter, pitch in a game for the first time since he was a junior in high school.
In his first day as an active Mallards player, the 19-year-old Stilson pitched 5.1 innings, striking out two batters while allowing four hits and only two walks. Yet, Stilson?s appearance accounted for just over one-third of the total game.
When he left the mound in the sixth inning, the score remained fixed at 0-0. Both teams had experienced only frustration offensively. Madison sent no more than four batters to the plate through that inning, and had been set down in order in the second, third and sixth frames. Yet, no one could have guessed the game would go as long as it did. No one would have thought the contest would last 14 innings.
One team, and then the other, seemed poised to break through and get at least one run.
Spencer Steedley hit a two-out double for Madison in the top of the first inning. Waterloo answered with a Jeff Lanning, no-out double in the bottom of the second, and truly seemed to threaten when Steedley dropped a fly ball in right field, allowing Jeff Whitlow to get on base. But then, after dropping the ball, Steedley fired it back and threw out Shea Robin at second. Robin walked during the previous at-bat. Although Lanning advanced to third base on the play, Whitlow was subsequently picked off between first and second.
That was the way much of the game went. Just when one of the teams appeared to have the upper hand, the other would answer back with a defensive play, usually on the base paths.
Such was the case for the Mallards, who were picked off and caught stealing a total of four times despite collecting eight hits before the final inning.
The adversity notwithstanding, the Mallards would not let themselves be beat by themselves ? or by the Bucks.
They were led by the relief pitchers, Dodson and Creevy. Dodson, who had appeared in just 7.1 innings prior to this game, started out perfect. He retired the first 14 batters he faced.
Dodson began by striking out the first four hitters to whom he pitched ? two swinging to close out the sixth inning, and two looking to start the seventh. He continued, striking out six of eight batters by the end of the eighth inning and eight total in 5.2 innings while allowing just one hit and no walks.
He allowed a single by Dane Hamilton to lead off the 11th inning, yet finished the frame by inducing outs from the next three batters.
Nonetheless, the 11th was filled with tension, and Dodson needed defensive help from his teammates before getting out of it. Hamilton reached second base by way of a sacrifice bunt, and went to third on a groundout to Mallards shortstop Gary Arndt. Then a groundball was hit to first baseman Jordan Comadena (pictured below), who scrambled for the ball and dove back to first just before the runner to get the final out of the inning and keep the Bucks from taking the win.
Defense was the hero behind the pitchers. The fielders offered tight protection, yielding no errors and allowing the Mallards to use three pitchers over 14 innings ? key for a bullpen that was stretched into 13 innings only three days before.
Creevy relieved Dodson in the beginning of the 12th inning, and went one-two-three in that frame.
After a Mike Rohde single to lead off the 13th inning, it ended abruptly as Arndt grounded into a double play, and Danny Dressman grounded out, as well.
The Bucks would then pose a major threat again in the bottom of the 13th. Creevy allowed a four-pitch walk to Whitlow to lead off the inning. Whitlow advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt and then third base on a groundout to Comadena. After intentionally walking Ryan Hastings, who had been 2-4 to that point, Creevy struck out Damon Aaron looking.
Then, finally, the Mallards found what they needed as they reached the 14th inning. It was their longest game of the season.
Comadena led off the inning and quickly reached base as he was hit on the shoulder. He then stole second on a hit-and-run play with Blaine Rutledge at the plate. Although Rutledge was unable to connect on the pitch, and it looked as if another base runner would be caught stealing, fate finally took a side in this contest, and the ball found its way through the shortstop, Hamilton, and into the outfield, allowing Comadena to get safely to second.
Rutledge then reached first base by beating out a bunt, allowing Comadena to get to third with no outs. After Steedley popped out to the third baseman, Bryan Resnick, in foul territory, Tommy Lentz found the outfield grass with a single to left field and Comadena scored. The Mallards were up 1-0.
Then, Kris Rochelle pinch hit and popped out and Jordan Wolf drew a two-out walk before Rohde came to the plate. On a full count, Rohde connected on a single that hopped over the head of Hamilton and scored the second and third runs of the game. Arndt and Dressman then both singled and each picked up an RBI before Comadena, who started the inning, also finished it, with a groundout. Ten batters came up for Madison in the 14th, the first time in the game more than four Mallards had plate appearances in one frame.
Creevy closed out the inning backed by the insurance of a 5-0 lead, and although he allowed the leadoff hitter to reach, induced a fly out from the next batted and a double play to end the game.
The Mallards are now 7-3 in the second half (23-21 overall) and the Bucks are 4-6 (17-27). Madison is two games behind the division leading Rochester Honkers in the second half, and two ahead of third-place La Crosse.
The win is the 199th since the Madison Mallards were formed in 2001.
Come see the Mallards try to make history Thursday night as they play the La Crosse Loggers at 7:05 p.m. at the Duck Pond.
It will be Sports Impressions T-Shirt Night. The first 1,000 fans 14 and under will receive a free Mallards T-shirt courtesy of Sports Impressions. It will also be Budweiser Pint Glass Night #4. The first 1,000 fans 21 and over will receive the fourth in a series of five Budweiser Pint Glasses to be given away at the Duck Pond this summer.
Great seats are still available. Order yours now by visiting www.mallardsbaseball.com or calling 608.246.4277.