The Gateway Grizzlies and Southern Illinois Miners combined for 31 hits and 29 runs in an old-time slugfest Wednesday night at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Ill.
Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, it was the Miners who had more hits and more importantly more runs, especially in a critical eight-run eighth inning, which proved to be the difference in a 16-13 decision that went to Southern Illinois.
The Miners, now 49-40 on the season, were able to go back in front of the Grizzlies by one game, for control of the fourth and final spot in the Frontier League playoffs, which will begin next weekend.
The other team that came into the night tied with the Grizzlies and Miners for that last playoff spot — the Florence Freedom — also won on Wednesday, keeping them tied with Southern Illinois for that final postseason slot.
Wednesday’s game at GCS was another classic Frontier League back-and-forth type ballgame.
The Miners scored twice in the top of the first to take the lead, then extended their early edge to 4-0 with two more runs in the top of the third.
Gateway answered back with two runs of its own in the bottom of the third and a single run in the bottom of the fourth to make it 4-3 Southern Illinois.
But the Miners got two runs apiece in the fifth and sixth innings to go back up 8-3, before the Grizzlies answered with three runs in the bottom of the sixth and two more in the seventh to tie the game at 8.
One of the key runs in that rally was a solo home run to lead off the seventh by Jon Myers, the Gateway center fielder who now leads the entire Frontier League with 22 homers on the season.
The key to the game though, was the eighth inning.
That’s when Southern Illinois sent 11 men to the plate, and scored eight runs to go ahead 16-8.
The Miners were helped along by three walks and a Grizzlie error, but the big blow of the inning and really the entire night, was a two-out grand slam home run hit by leadoff man Cory Harrilchak.
Southern Illinois had already scored four runs at the time, but the way the game had gone, a 12-8 deficit didn’t seem too much to overcome.
But with Harrilchak’s four-run bomb added to it, an eight-run comeback, with only two innings to pull it off, proved too much for the Grizzlies, who did manage to make it interesting, after scoring five runs in the bottom of the eighth to get back to 16-13.
In the bottom of the ninth though, Southern Illinois brought in its closer Ronald Uviedo, who pitched around a leadoff hit by Chris McClendon — the Gateway third baseman, who was on base six times on Wednesday (five hits and a walk) — to get his seventh save of the season for the Miners.
The two clubs will play the rubber game of their three-game set Thursday night at GCS, with a battle of two All-Stars on the mound as the highlight matchup.
Second-year man Ja’Vuan West (7-3) will be making his second start since coming off the injured list for the Grizzlies, while veteran Preston Vancil (9-4) will get the ball for the Miners.
First pitch is Thursday is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.
GATEWAY GRIZZLIES REMAINING SCHEDULE
August 29 vs. Southern Illinois Miners …… 6:35 p.m.
August 30 vs. Rockford Aviators …………… 7:05 p.m.
August 31 vs. Rockford Aviators …………… 7:05 p.m.
September 1 vs. Rockford Aviators ……….. 7:05 p.m.
September 3 at Southern Illinois Miners …. 7:05 p.m.
September 4 at Southern Illinois Miners …. 7:05 p.m.
September 5 at Southern Illinois Miners …. 7:05 p.m.