The Gateway Grizzlies enter the final weekend of the regular season with a lot to play for after taking the rubber match of their three-game series against the Florence Freedom.
The Grizzlies pulled within one game of River City for the wild card playoff spot after pounding the Freedom 11-4 Thursday night at GCS Ballpark. River City’s game against Normal had yet to begin due to inclement weather at the completion of the Grizzlies game.
Gateway pounded out 13 hits and six Grizzlies had two hits apiece to back Josh Whitlock’s strong starting performance.
“We came out swinging and got a few insurance runs against Flanagan late,” said Gateway manager Phil Warren. “Josh came out and attacked the hitters and the defense played well so it was a good night all the way around.”
Whitlock gave up a two-run homer to Brandon Cohen in the second but settled down to stifle Florence’s offense over the next five innings.
Whitlock (3-10) retired the next 13 batters he faced before Jimmy Baker’s single off the base of the left-field wall snapped the streak in the sixth. Whitlock worked around a leadoff single in the seventh before tiring in the eighth and running into trouble.
Tim Grogan doubled to right to put runners on second and third with one out and a pass ball allowed Billy Mottram to score. Baker’s sacrifice fly brought in Grogan.
Whitlock was acquired from the Kalmazoo Kings on August 16 and has won two of his three starts for the Grizzlies. He had posted a 1-10 record while pitching for the Kings.
Whitlock gave up four runs on six hits over eight innings of work. Whitlock struck out five and walked just one.
“It’s hard to pitch when you think you have to do everything yourself but here he knows he has help, which allows him to focus on his game plan and make the pitches,” Warren said of Whitlock since joining the Gateway.
David Miller worked a perfect ninth.
The Grizzlies scored in each of the first four innings to open an 8-2 lead in large part thanks to the contributions from the bottom third of the lineup.
Number seven-hitter Jareck West belted a leadoff homer in the second, and Breck Draper followed with a homer for back-to-back shots.
The duo both singled and scored in the third inning to extend Gateway’s lead to five.
“Everybody matters in that lineup,” Warren said. “All three of the bottom guys hit the ball hard. It stands out to me when we win games by more than a couple of runs it’s because they’ve had a good night.”
Gateway manufactured three runs in the first on three singles and an error.
Logan Parker’s broken-bat infield single brought in Matty Johnson, who singled to right to start the inning, and Charlie Lisk’s broken-bat groundout plated Gordon Gronkowski.
Parker reached on an infield single and scored as he aggressively took third base on Lisk’s groundout, forcing Florence to make a throw to third that got past the third baseman and went into the crowd to allow Parker to walk home.
Gronkowski added a solo homer in the fourth.
Parker blasted a three-run homer in the eighth for his 11th homer of the season. Parker finished 2 for 3 with four RBIs.
The Grizzlies wrap up the regular season hosting the West Division champions Southern Illinois Miners for a three-game series starting Friday. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m.
“We’ve got to have the best series of our life and have a little luck on the other side of the river,” Warren said. “We know that if we don’t take care of our business it doesn’t matter what happens over there.”
Florence 020 000 020 — 4 6 4
Gateway 322 100 03x — 8 10 0
Kevin Whittaker, John Flanagan (2) and Justin Holloway. Josh Whitlock, David Miller (9) and Charlie Lisk, Landon Hernandez (9). WP-Whitlock (3-10). LP-Whittaker (0-3). HR: Flore.-Brandon Cohen, 2nd, one on. Gate.-Jareck West, 2nd, none on; Breck Draper, 2nd, none on; Gordon Gronkowski, 4th, none on; Logan Parker, 8th, two on. Att.-3,255.