With the Prospect League season rapidly winding down and the playoff race heating up, each and every time the Terre Haute Rex take the field have become must-win games.
The Rex entered Monday night’s contest against the Normal Cornbelters, who were playing at Bob Warn Field for the first time, just 4 1/2 games behind Chillicothe after falling to the Paints Sunday.
Keeping pace with them was all the Rex could do after Chillicothe defeated Champion City earlier in the evening.
And Terre Haute was able to accomplish that, albeit much later than anticipated after two separate delays that combined to span two hours and nine minutes, by slugging its way to a five-inning 20-5 victory that saw each batter in the lineup score at least one run.
“Every game from here on out is huge for us. We feel as if it’s a must-win situation because we can’t expect Danville and Chillicothe to keep losing,” Rex manager Tyler Wampler stated. “It’s win at all costs now.”
The second delay saw many fans pack up and head for home, but before the lightning entered the area, there was all sorts of action for them to take in.
Two batters into the top of the first, Normal was in front 2-0 after Mike Addante singled and Michael O’Brien launched a long two-run home run over the left field fence.
Rex starter Max Klein brushed the long ball off and proceeded to retire the next three in order, allowing his offense to come to the plate in search of inching closer to their West Division foes.
The Rex not only got closer, they zoomed right past the Cornbelters without many balls being put into play.
After Normal starter Christopher Cuppini walked the bases loaded with two outs, Terre Haute catcher Brett McCleary laced a two-run single into right to tie the game. One batter later, an errant throw on a ground ball to shortstop kept the inning alive and allowed the third run of the frame to cross the plate.
There was more to come, though.
Three straight walks to Brayden Frazier, Will Hayes and Jeremy Houston plated two more runs, extending the first inning lead that saw the Rex record just one hit, but produced five runs on six walks and a costly error.
“We preach we want to win every inning and do our best to do that. We were down 2-0, but the guys came back to win the inning. That was huge. There were a lot of good at-bats and good swings today,” said Wampler of the seven-run first.
Upon Houston reaching first, the lightning hit, sending the game into a one-hour-and-two-minute delay. It had zero effect on the Rex bats, as Mitchell Garrity greeted Normal reliver Justin Allen with a two-run single up the middle to cap a seven-run first.
The offense continued to hum in the second, as McCleary knocked in his third run with an RBI double into the left-center field gap. He then came around to score on Bridge’s long line drive two-run homer, putting the hosts into double-digits in just their second trip through the lineup.
In all, the second inning saw 11 more runs cross the plate, which included Bridge hammering a second two-run home run that snuck just inside the left field foul pole that garnered a well-deserved standing ovation from not only the fans in attendance, but his teammates in the third base dugout as well.
“Last night he dropped a fly ball at a crucial point in the game and was pretty hard on himself. We talked last night it’s about how you respond. I think he responded pretty well to that,” Wampler said of Bridge’s two homers in the same inning, a first in Rex history.
The 18 runs that scored in the first two frames were more than enough support for Klein (three innings) and Logan DeWulf (two innings), who kept their team in the playoff chase with another win.
The game was called after five innings due to possible incoming weather, as well as travel logistics for both teams.
NORMAL (AB-R-H-RBI) — Addante rf 2-1-1-0, O’Brien 3b 3-1-1-2, McWilliams dh 2-1-1-0, Shefske ss 2-1-0-0, McCaw 1b 3-1-2-3, Acker cf 1-0-0-0, Parker lf 2-0-0-0, Richards c 1-0-0-0, McKelvey 2b 2-0-0-0, Hanna 2b 0-0-0-0. Totals 18-5-5-5.
TERRE HAUTE (AB-R-H-RBI) — Houston ss 2-1-0-1, Garrity cf 1-2-1-2, Harris lf 2-1-0-1, Weiler 1b 3-4-1-2, Speirs dh 3-3-2-4, McCleary c 4-3-3-4, Bridge rf 4-3-2-4, Frazier 3b 3-1-0-0, Hayes 2b 1-2-0-1. Totals 23-20-9-19.
E — Shefske, McKelvey. DP — TH 1. LOB — N 5, TH 3. 2B — McCleary, Speirs, McWilliams. HR — O’Brien, Bridge 2, Speirs. SB — Addante. CS — Acker.
Cuppini (L, 0-2)=2/3=1=7=2=6=0
Klein (W, 3-1)=3=4=2=2=3=3
HBP — Richards (by Klein), Acker (by Klein), Garrity (by Nielsen). WP — Allen. T — 3:13.
Next — Terre Haute Rex (29-22) and Normal (17-33) play again Tuesday in Normal, Ill.