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Miners sweep doubleheader against Freedom

  • Miners first baseman Joe Dudek makes a diving stop on the first pitch of Wednesday's second game against Florence.

    Miners first baseman Joe Dudek makes a diving stop on the first pitch of Wednesday's second game against Florence.
    All photos by Justin Walker

updated: 6/30/2018 5:34 AM

MARION -- After a frustrating road trip and yet another rainout, the Southern Illinois Miners swept a doubleheader from the Florence Freedom, 6-4 and 2-1 in eight innings, and celebrated by pumping up the volume in their Rent One Park clubhouse Wednesday night.

The Miners improved to 20-18 with the two victories and, despite some early turbulence, manager Mike Pinto's squad was just one game behind Evansville (22-18) in the Frontier League's West Division standings going into Thursday's scheduled series finale with the Freedom, who dropped to 19-22.

Nothing is guaranteed this season, however. The Miners had just one game rained out all of last summer but have already had seven nights of postponements and nine games overall canceled during this early portion of the 2018 schedule. At least one of those games, against Normal, won't be made up.

(Edit: Thursday's game was also rained out.)

"I'm so tired of it," Pinto said. "I've never seen anything like it. We've played so many doubleheaders and we have more to go. But it's out of my control.

"We talk about controlling the controllables and that's not one of them. We really wanted to play (Tuesday) but we saw what the weather was like coming in."

Tuesday's rainout came after getting swept in Evansville, but was followed by Wednesday night's sweep which featured a big comeback in the first game and a walkoff homer by a player who wasn't even on the team until Tuesday.

"We needed to win today," Pinto said. "We had won two games in two weeks and just didn't play great. We had a meeting on the off day (Monday) and then had a workout and really just clarified what our approach was and what we're trying to do. And they did a great job of locking in on that today."

The Miners fell behind 4-0 against the Freedom in the first game. Caleb Lopes homered against Miners starter Kurt Heyer and a former Southern Illinois player, Jordan Brower, ripped an RBI double after errors led to the first two runs.

Harrison Bragg, who played in the Miners' recent road trip but was making his Rent One Park debut, homered in the third and Romeo Cortina went deep to lead off the fifth, when the Miners eventually put up a five-spot on the new video board.

Joe Duncan capped three straight singles and put the Miners within a run, then Nolan Earley cranked a majestic three-run homer to right field and Southern Illinois suddenly had a 6-4 lead that held up.

Heyer (3-3) went six innings and struck out six. Michael Starcevich pitched the seventh and struck out Brower to end the game and collect the save.

"I thought the energy in the dugout was great," Pinto said. "They really pulled for each other. We got down in the first game and they didn't lay back. They kept playing."

The first pitch of the second game by the Miners' Geno Encina was smashed down the first-base line but first baseman Joe Dudek made a sensational diving stop to his left and made the putout unassisted. Later in the game, he'd make a similarly-spectacular diving stab and flip to Encina for another out.

"He made a couple of great plays," Pinto said. "He had a great night defensively."

Encina and Florence's Cody Gray were both strong in the nightcap. Lopez hit a bunt single in the fourth to break up Encina's perfect game and later scored on a fielder's choice for the Freedom's only run of the game.

Austin Homan, another new Miners player making his home debut, drove in Bragg in the fifth to tie it up, but it was a player making his true Miners debut that provided the winning run in the eighth.

Kyle Davis, an infielder who was recently released by the Houston Astros organization, joined the team Tuesday and didn't have a hit in the first game and was hitless in his first three at-bats in the second game. But none of that mattered when Davis led off the eighth against reliever Brian McKenna and crushed a home run over the left-field wall to give the Miners a walkoff win.

Kyle Tinius, who pitched the top of the eighth, snatched the pitching win.

"Geno really threw well and deserved to get a win but sometimes you can't get that," Pinto said. "Kyle came in and did a great job in the eighth and kept us there. After Davis, we had (Chance) Shepard, Dudek and (Nolan) Earley coming up. All of them were capable of leaving the yard."

Shepard has hit 12 home runs this season, the second-most in the Frontier League behind Normal's Chris Iriart. Dudek and Earley have both hit seven.

The Miners remain at home this weekend and face the Gateway Grizzlies in a three-game series starting Friday night.

UPDATE ON PEREZ: Williams Perez became the first former major-league player to play for the Miners when he pitched for the team earlier this season, but he could be on the brink of becoming the fourth former Miner to reach the majors after playing in Marion soon.

Perez, who was signed by the Seattle Mariners, appeared in four games for their Texas League (AA) team and struck out 17 batters in 22 innings with a 2.86 ERA before being promoted to the Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League (AAA) and throwing six scoreless innings with five strikeouts in his first start there.

"What a great thing it would be for us to have him get to the big leagues this year," Pinto said. "He really was special. You don't know what you're getting when you're getting a guy like that, but he fit from the moment he walked in. The guys thought he might be stand-offish and he wasn't. He was really helpful with the younger guys and was a great support. I'm thrilled we could be a part of giving him a chance."