The Southern Illinois Miners grabbed an early lead Friday night, saw the Normal CornBelters come back to take their own lead in the middle innings, then surged ahead with four runs in the sixth inning capped by a go-ahead homer from Chance Shepard in beating the visitors 6-4 at Rent One Park, snapping a four-game slide and getting back within one game of the second wild card playoff spot in the Frontier League.
The Miners scored two runs in the first inning without the aid of a hit- Joe Duncan and Romeo Cortina worked walks, and a flyout moved Duncan to third base. Shepard then hit a ground ball to third baseman Michael Baca, who threw low to second base on the fielder's choice, allowing Cortina to get to third base and Duncan to score to make it 1-0. Luke Bonfield followed with a sacrifice fly to center field to plate Cortina and make it 2-0.
Steven Ridings held the CornBelters to only one hit in the first four innings, but Normal struck back in the fifth, as Chris Iriart blasted a two-run homer to left field with a man on base to tie the game at 2-2. In the top of the sixth, with runners at first and second base, Andrew Godbold yanked a double inside the third base bag to plate both runners and give the CornBelters a 4-2 lead.
That lead would not last long, however- Normal starter Zack Kirby (3-8) hit Jake Willsey and walked Max Dutto leading off the bottom of the sixth, and they were sacrificed into scoring position by Duncan before Cortina came up clutch, dumping a two-run single into center field to tie the game at 4-4. Two batters later, with two outs, Shepard crushed a go-ahead, two-run home run of his own over the wall in the left field corner, with his 22nd long ball of the season giving the Miners a 6-4 edge.
The Southern Illinois bullpen held firm from there, allowing just one baserunner in the final three innings, with John Werner nailing down his eighth save in the ninth as the Miners took the series opener of the big, five-game weekend set. Shepard finished with three RBIs in the game, while the Miners out-hit the CornBelters nine to five in the contest. Cortina finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored as well in the victory.
Now one game back of the CornBelters for the second wild card spot in the Frontier League playoff picture, the Miners take on Normal in a doubleheader to continue the series on Saturday, August 25th, beginning at 4:05 p.m. in Marion. Austin Dubsky and Aaron Rozek will start on the mound for the Miners in the twin-bill.
The Southern Illinois Miners are the Frontier League's winningest franchise since debuting in 2007, winning the 2012 Frontier League Championship as well as division titles in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016. They have been awarded the Frontier League Organization of the Year award three times since their inception, and also set a new Frontier League attendance record in their inaugural season. For ticket information, contact the box office at (618) 998-8499. For additional information, visit our website at www.siminers.com.