TRAVERSE CITY — By JAMES COOK
You could almost hear a pin drop in the Traverse City locker room.
The silence was created when Southern Illinois' Ken Gregory belted a solo home run on the first pitch he saw in the 10th inning Thursday to give the Miners a 5-4 victory and a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series.
"I thought I hit it out, but it's a pretty big field, so I started running right away," Gregory said.
Game 3 is Saturday in Marian, Ill. Game 4 would be Sunday, if the Beach Bums can extend the series.
"We don't have a choice," Traverse City manager Gregg Langbehn said. "We've got to win three in a row. We've done that before this year."
After the Beach Bums took a 4-0 five innings into the contest, TC escaped the Miners' half of the eighth with the game tied, as Matt Miller fielded Carlos Mendez's come-backer and threw home to Marcus Nidiffer, who ran Ken Gregory nearly back to third before tagging him and then also tagged pinch runner Will Block, who tried to sneak in an extra base during the play.
"That was kind of strange," Miners manager Mike Pinto said. "I'll leave it at that."
"Pretty unusual," Langbehn said. "It's a tough situation to be in — as far as being a base runner — and it just went kind of haywire for them. Give Miller and Nidiffer and everybody on the infield credit. You could hear them talking and communicating."
Scott Mueller had started the eighth, hitting Javier Herrera with a pitch and walking Gregory before being lifted for Miller. Herrera came in on Cory Harrilchak's infield single to tie the game.
Traverse City had 1-2-3 innings in the ninth and 10th.
"We've got to play better, that's all," Langbehn said. "We didn't play well enough to win."
TC's Jacob Clem cruised through five innings.
"He was keeping the ball down," Pinto said. "He's a good pitcher, there's no doubt about that. Our guys started seeing the ball up a bit, and the turn around was when Ramirez hit the triple. It seemed to excite the dugout a little bit, and then we got another hit and another hit. Next thing you know, you're back in the ballgame."
Scott Dunn came on to close out the sixth when Southern Illinois finally got to Clem, who allowed four straight hits to start the frame, ending up in three runs. Dunn got a fly out and a strikeout to prevent more damage.
"That gave us a new energy and new life in the dugout," Pinto said.
With two runners on, Nick Capito came on and got Jake Kaase to pop up on the first pitch to end the seventh-inning threat.
Clem departed after 5.1 innings, giving up six hits, no walks and fanning two.
"He was extremely efficient through five," Langbehn said. "His pitch count was low. Thirteen of 15 outs were ground balls, just like he did all year. Then he left some pitches up. But he's been a workhorse for us all year. I've got to give them credit, too. They had some pitches up and they didn't miss them. But overall I thought he did awesome."
It wasn't until the fifth inning that the Miners were able to get under a Clem pitch enough to even fly out to the outfield. Both hits through five were singles through the infield.
Daniel Calhoun went five innings, allowing seven hits, four runs, two walks and striking out seven.
Ryan Still led off the game with a full-count single up the middle, followed by a single through the infield's right side. Jose Vargas followed with a ground-rule double that brought in Still, while Brian Heere came across on Chase Burch's fielder's choice and Jeff Flagg singled to left to plate Vargas for a 3-0 lead.
Burch blasted a shot over the left-field wall for a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning.
"We really felt up against the ropes for a lot of that game," Pinto said. "They went ahead four and you've got a long battle ahead and hope you can just peck away at it."
After Burch's homer, the Bums would get only four more base runners, one of those on a hit batsman.
"As an offense, we kind of stalled," Flagg said. "We didn't keep pressing and add on (to the lead). We came out hot, and we need to figure out how to keep that going throughout the game."
Down 0-2, the Beach Bums now face the task of having to win three straight in order to advance to play for the Frontier Cup for the second time in three years.
"It's tough to play here to begin with," Pinto said. "They're such a good team at home. And you know you've got your work cutout for you. Really, you go into a series like this and you say, 'Hey, if we can split and get one and go home, we have a chance there.' To come here and take two is a huge thing for the team."
"There nothing else we can ask for, coming out of this up 2-0," Gregory said. "Hopefully we can go home and wrap it up."