JOLIET – The Joliet Slammers had a great opportunity to secure their first Frontier League championship since their inaugural season of 2011 when they hosted Washington in Game 4 of the teams’ best-of-five series at Joliet Route 66 Stadium.
Joliet scored a run in the second inning, and starter Corey Kimber got on a roll, allowing one hit through the first five innings. But the Wild Things capitalized on a walk and error to open the sixth and then scored those runners with a two-out single to take a 2-1 lead, and two relievers made sure that it remained that way as they captured a 2-1 victory.
As a result, the series returns to Washington for the fifth and deciding game. It originally was scheduled for Monday, but fears over bad weather in southwest Pennsylvania on that day as the result of the aftermath of Hurricane Florence may result in the contest being played later in the week.
“We had plenty of opportunities and didn’t take advantage, and you’re not going to win games if that happens,” Slammers manager Jeff Isom said. “They had a ball that hit the top of the bag and took a weird hop and surprised Danny [Zardon] a little bit. Danny has been so solid over there at third, but that’s just the way that the ball bounces.
“The series is tied, 2-2, and we have to go up there to play, and we’ve got to win a game. It comes down to one more game and finding a way to do it. If we continue to pitch and play defense, we need to scratch out some runs, like we did last night when we scored five runs, all with two outs. I was hoping for a little of that magic today, but it didn’t happen.”
In the Slammers’ second, Chaz Meadows walked and Travis Bolin hit into a fielder’s choice before Brian Parreira followed with a two-out double to right to put the hosts up.
Joliet threatened again the fifth when Bolin led off by reaching on a two-base error, but he stayed at second after Dillon Sunnafrank retired the next three hitters in order.
In the Wild Things’ sixth, former Slammer Dom Iero led off with a walk, and James Harris followed by reaching on a two-base error.
Kimber, who retired the first 11 batters that he faced and allowed two runs on two hits in seven innings while striking out five, looked like he might get out of the jam by getting a grounder and a strikeout, but Hector Roa got a two-out single to put the visitors in front.
Sunnafrank wound up throwing six innings in which he allowed a run on two hits while striking out four. Jesus Balaguer didn’t allow a hit in the seventh and eighth innings. The Slammers only had two hits through the first eight innings.
Cody Clark pitched in the eighth and ninth innings and only allowed two hits while working his way of out a ninth-inning jam. In the ninth, Wild Things relief ace Zach Strecker allowed a leadoff infield single to Justin Garcia, and Ridge Hoopii-Haslam sacrificed him over. After Trenton Hill drew a walk, Chaz Meadows bounced into a game-ending double play.
While Joliet looks to win its second Frontier League championship in its eight-year history, Washington still is seeking its first title as the Wild Things. While based in Canton, Ohio, in 1997, the organization captured its only Frontier League title.
“It’s no surprise that we’re playing a fifth game since we’re both very good teams,” said Isom, who also led Washington to the Frontier League championship series in 2002. “You look at their lineup one through nine, and they’ve got some good hitter all the way through. But why make it easy? Nothing has been easy for us, and we don’t expect game five to be easy either.
“They’ll give us a time and a date, and we’ll do it. We don’t want to wait too long, obviously, but with Hurricane Florence making its way up and being in that area on Monday, they say, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but either way, we’ll be ready to go.”