Quad Cities third baseman Rio Ruiz grounded a two-out tie-breaking single through the right side in the top of the eighth as the River Bandits took Game 1 of the Midwest League Championship Series 3-2 over the South Bend Silver Hawks. Both teams struggled with men in scoring position all night long but Ruiz’s single was enough to get the job done while the Hawks left the tying run at second in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Quad Cities, the Class-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, got the first breakthrough in Game 1 of the Midwest League Championship Series. With one out in the top of the third inning, designated hitter Brian Blasik worked a walk against Hawks starter Braden Shipley. Second baseman Tony Kemp came up next and beat out an infield single down the third base line that put runners on first and second. Shipley retired center fielder Teoscar Hernandez on a fly ball to center for the second out of the inning. On the play, Blasik tagged and took third while Kemp took second base when the throw from center missed the cutoff man. Shortstop Carlos Correa, the #1 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, walked to load the bases. Left fielder Danry Vasquez, traded from Great Lakes earlier in the season when the Tigers acquired for Jose Veras, drew the third walk of the inning and forced home Blasik for the first run of the game. Shipley escaped any further damage by striking out former Silver Hawk Brian Borchering for the third out of the inning with the River Bandits leading 1-0.
South Bend, the Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, struck back to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. River Bandits starter Chris Devenski (W, 1-0) surrendered a one-out double to Hawks first baseman Rudy Flores. It was a quick rally as two pitches later Hawks second baseman Fidel Pena launched a 1-0 pitch over the right-center field wall to give South Bend a 2-1 lead.
Shipley, the #15 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, held on to the 2-1 lead until the seventh inning. The River Bandits had a man on third with one out in both the fifth and sixth innings but were unable to tie the game in either inning. However, Shipley’s luck ran out in the bottom of the seventh. Right fielder Jordan Scott pummeled a 1-0 pitch over the right-center field wall for a game-tying leadoff homerun. Shipley retired the next two hitters before leaving the game, having pitched seven and two-thirds innings and allowing just two earned runs on five hits while striking out six and walking three in a no decision. Kyle Winkler (L, 0-1) came in and retired the first batter he faced to end the inning with the score tied at 2-2.
Winkler started the eighth inning for the Hawks and gave up a leadoff single to Correa, who hit the ball hard all night long. That was all for Winkler as Daniel Gibson entered the game for the Hawks. Correa was retired at second on a fielder’s choice by Vasquez for the first out of the inning. Gibson then tried to pick off Vasquez and his throw to first bounded past Flores and down the right field line. Vasquez advanced to third on the throwing error. Gibson got a critical strikeout when he got Borchering to chase a curveball in the dirt for the second out of the inning, freezing Vasquez at third. Ruiz came through for the River Bandits with two outs as he battled Gibson, fouling off several pitches before grounding a hanging curveball through the right side for a tie-breaking RBI single that gave Quad Cities a 3-2 lead.
Devenski settled down after surrendering the homer to Flores in the fourth. He retired eleven of the final thirteen hitters that he faced with only one runner reaching scoring position. Devenski threw seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out nine Hawks. He was replaced by sidearmer Patrick Christensen to start the bottom of the eighth inning. Christensen faced three batters, striking out shortstop Andrew Velazquez, giving up a ground ball single to center fielder Socrates Brito and getting third baseman Brandon Drury to fly out to right. With two outs and Brito on first, Quad Cities turned to the bullpen again. This time, manager Omar Lopez summoned Andrew Walter (S, 3) to face Flores. Walter got the job done as he got Flores swinging on a 1-2 curveball to send the game to the ninth with Quad Cities holding on to a 3-2 lead.
Thomas Brendel pitched the ninth inning for the Hawks and retired the River Bandits in order to keep the lead to just one run going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Walter remained in the game for the River Bandits in the ninth. Pena led off the inning and knocked a single into center field to put the tying run at first. Right fielder Mike Lang laid down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Pena to second with one out. Walter struck out designated hitter Justin Williams swinging for the second out, which left it all up to catcher Michael Perez. Perez worked the count to 1-2 before lofting a fly ball to left that ended the game.
The Silver Hawks and River Bandits will meet up for Game 2 of the Midwest League Championship Series on Thursday night at 7:05pm. Lefty Joe Bircher (Playoffs 1-0, 1.80 ERA) gets the ball for the River Bandits while the Silver Hawks counter with RHP Blake Perry (Playoffs 0-0, 5.40 ERA). It’s Thirsty Thursday at Four Winds Field as fans can enjoy $1 soda and beer all night long. There will also be a huge fireworks extravaganza after the game as the Hawks celebrate the last home game of the season. Come on out to Four Winds Field for the last time this season and help send the Hawks off to Quad Cities with the series tied at 1-1.