TERRE HAUTE —
Going into Saturday’s regular-season finale against the Danville Dans at Bob Warn Field, the Terre Haute Rex faced a potential woulda, coulda, shoulda scenario when it came to qualifying for the Prospect League baseball playoffs.
The Rex had to defeat Danville or Springfield would need to lose to Hannibal for Terre Haute to qualify for its first-ever playoff bid.
Terre Haute made it clear from the first inning that neither woulda, coulda nor shoulda would have anything to do with the Rex’s fate Saturday.
Terre Haute took control with a two-run first, scored in each of the first three innings and defeated Danville 8-3 in a shortened game in front of 1,960 spectators.
The rest of the results in the league were favorable to the Rex too.
As a result, not only did the Rex clinch a playoff bid, the team won the Prospect League second-half West Division title outright by one game over Quincy.
Terre Haute will travel to Quincy to play the Gems in a Prospect League semifinal game at 7:30 p.m. Monday. The Gems will host because they had a better overall season record.
If the Rex defeat the Gems, they would host the Prospect League championship game against a East Division team Wednesday.
The game against the Dans ended in the fifth inning when Danville informed the umpiring crew that it had run out of pitching. Danville’s problems were compounded by a 1-hour, 15-minute rain delay in the bottom of the third inning.
The call to finish early was fine with the Rex, who celebrated their sixth consecutive victory, needing all of the wins to clinch their playoff bid.
“It’s incredible. Two years of working to put a team on the field that could compete in the Prospect League, you can just see by the reaction here how much it means to everyone,” said Rex general manager Roland Shelton from a jubilant Rex dugout.
“We knew we had to win out, we didn’t want to put our destiny in anyone’s else’s hands. We came out, did our thing, now we go to the playoffs,” said Rex center fielder Ronnie Mitchell, who was 3-for-3 with four RBI and a double.
Even with a loss, the Rex would have made the playoffs. Hannibal defeated Springfield 7-1, which knocked the Sliders out of contention. Still, it was satisfying for the Rex that they took the bull by the horns and controlled their own fate.
“We struggled early in the season. We knew we had to win the last six games and we did it for the fans. Our emotions are high. We wanted to come out swinging and that’s what we did. Good things happened,” said Rex right fielder Nick Johnson, who was 2-for-3 with an RBI Saturday.
The Rex drew blood early. Ronnie Mitchell led off with a single and advanced on a bunt single by Jacob Hayes. After a fielder’s choice by Stephen Bruno, Koby Kraemer knocked in Mitchell with a sacrifice fly to make it 1-0.
Bruno then scored easily on a Johnson double into the right-field gap. The Rex led 2-0.
The lead ballooned to 5-0 in the second. Chace Mitchell led off with a walk, stole second and scored on a double by Mike Schroeder. After a Jordan Pearson single, Ronnie Mitchell drove in Schroeder and Pearson with a single to right. All came with no outs, but Danville settled down and retired the Rex without further damage.
After looking as if it was in play-out-the-string mode in the first two innings, Danville charged back in the third. The Dans were more patient against Rex starter Erlin Santos, drawing a leadoff walk and a single. The reward was a two-run triple by Andrew Vallejo to make it 5-2. It was followed by an RBI double to make it 5-3.
But the Rex offense was indefatigable. The Rex quickly loaded the bases with one out. Pearson drew a walk to make it 6-3 and Ronnie Mitchell slapped a double off the left-field wall to drive in Chace Mitchell and Schroeder. It was 8-3 and Danville would not muster another response.
“They were short on players, so we wanted to knock their guy out by being as aggressive as we could. He left some pitches up in the [strike] zone and we were able to score in bunches,” Ronnie Mitchell said.
The Rex offensive deluge was followed by the real thing. A storm cell and its lightning caused the above-mentioned delay.
Because of its dearth of pitching, Danville played until the the middle of the fifth inning. At that point, it became an official Prospect League game.
Rex manager Brian Dorsett watched the last three games outside the dugout due to a suspension levied upon him for an argument during a game at DeKalb County. He marveled at what his players accomplished and had high praise for coaches Darrin Barton, Ronnie Prettyman, John Howes and John Gardner, who ran the team in his absence.
“There’s not been one guy in that dugout that’s ever given in when we’ve been down. We’ve had a bunch of different guys coach. It’s been fun to watch. I can’t say enough for everybody,” Dorsett said.
The Rex’s average regular-season attendance of 1,014 per game ranked fifth in the Prospect League.
“The community has supported us through thick-and-thin. That was evident by them waiting through the delays tonight. It’s exciting times for the Terre Haute Rex,” Shelton said.