It’s early July and even in the two-month Prospect League season? It seems on the surface to be a bit of a stretch to be discussing playoff positioning.
Normally, that would be true. But when the defending league champion Terre Haute Rex looked at the Prospect League standings earlier this week, the picture wasn’t pretty. The Rex were in fifth place in the six-team Eastern Division. Worse? The Rex were six games out of the second-place spot, the last playoff position.
To pick up six games in the span of a month is no small task, so if the Rex were going to make a move towards playoff relevance? The push had to begin now.
So far, so good. Terre Haute won its fourth game in a row on a hothouse Saturday at Bob Warn Field. The Rex used a two-out Mitchell Garrity single in the bottom of the sixth to earn a 3-2 victory over Lafayette in a game scheduled for seven innings.
The Rex played calmly, didn’t get rattled when the Aviators twice tied the game and got a solid starting pitching effort from Blayke Cutts. Terre Haute didn’t look like a team fighting its way out of a deep hole and Rex manager Tyler Wampler hopes it stays that way.
“Guys have stepped up their sense of urgency. We’ve been caught out on our heels early in games. I feel like we’re throwing the first punch, finally. I think guys are tired of losing and we’re playing to our abilities,” Wampler said.
Cutts didn’t get a win for his performance, but it was still very solid. Cutts struck out five and didn’t allow a Lafayette hit until the fifth inning. The Aviators were kept off balance by his changing speeds and rarely barreled up on Cutts.
“Cutts has been as consistent as anyone on our staff. He competes, but everything he has [pitch-wise] moves,” Wampler said.
“It’s hard to square him up. He kept the ball down and hit spots when he needed to.”
At the plate, Terre Haute was solid when it needed to be. The Rex had at least one base hit in every inning but the fourth.
Terre Haute (16-17) scored its first run in the third as Justin Jenkins walked, advanced to second and third on two wild pitches and then scored via a Jacob Mulcahy groundout.
The game was 1-0 until the Aviators tied it in the fifth via a Trey Sweeney single, just the second hit of the game for Lafayette. Nonplussed, Terre Haute answered in its half of the fifth. Jenkins drew a one-out walk, eventually advanced to third, and then scored via an Austin Weiler bloop double to make it 2-1.
Lafayette (19-14) tied the game in the sixth as reliever Colton Panaranto gave up a two-out RBI single by Matt Phipps. Again, the Rex just calmly went about their business and immediately responded. Brendan Sher led off the bottom of the sixth with a single to center off Lafayette reliever Brendan Reid. Three batters later, Garrity delivered a two-out single to center – pumping his fist as he reached first base to put Terre Haute up 3-2.
Panaranto closed the door on the Aviators in the top of the seventh.
“We’ve known all year our guys would battle to the final out. In the later innings, we feel like we have an advantage over other teams. The dugout is calm and our guys believe in one another. They’re showing it,” Wampler said.
Game 2 of the scheduled doubleheader was postponed to 4 p.m. Sunday. Lightning and thunderstorms rolled into Bob Warn Field shortly after the conclusion of Game 1.
Sunday’s game will now be a doubleheader against Lafayette.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Golden on Twitter at @TribStarTodd.