Dans use 'small ball' to beat CornBelters
Story and photos by the amazing Chad Dare
Chicks dig the long ball.
At least that’s what a popular shoe company told us 20 years ago with their advertising campaign.
This summer, the home run has been a big part of the Danville Dans offensive game plan as they lead the league in dingers (12), RBIs (65) and run scored (81).
But on Sunday afternoon, Danville needed to play a little ‘small-ball’ to pull out a 3-2 victory over the Normal CornBelters before 544 at Danville Stadium.
“This was a lot different than last night. But you never know in the Prospect League or baseball, in general,’’ said Danville manager Eric Coleman, referring to the Dans 18-6 triumph on Saturday night against the Quincy Gems. “Today, we only get three runs and three hits, but it’s a good win and we will take it.’’
Coleman acknowledged that his squad might have been a little sluggish after an offensive firework display on Saturday night.
But some of that can also be attributed to the opponent. Normal used six different pitchers in the nine-inning contest, with no pitcher going more than two innings.
“It was kind of like a fall ball game where they kept rotating pitchers and they were keeping us off-balanced,’’ Coleman said. “We found a way to win. We scratched and we clawed to get those three runs. Using a safety squeeze to tie the game and then a sacrifice fly to get the winning run home.’’
Both of those came in the seventh inning for Danville.
Third baseman Jalen Jones got things started for the Dans with a double to left-field. That was the team’s only extra-base hit on the contest. He then stole third and after a one-out walk to Marcel Bachelier, Danville went into its playbook to tie the game at 2-2.
Center fielder Walker McCleney, who didn’t have an RBI in his first 24 at-bats, laid down a near perfect safety squeeze. Normal left-handed pitcher Jake Lotz fielded the bunt and tried to get Jones at the plate, but catcher Matt Richards couldn’t hold onto the ball and make the tag.
“This turned into a game where we had to lay down some bunts and manufacture runs,’’ said McCleney, a senior-to-be from Alabama. “When the pitchers for both teams are throwing well and both teams are playing good defense — it only takes a few runs to win a game.’’
But, what about the long ball?
“We are not trying to hit home runs,’’ said McCleney, whose team won its first game of the summer without hitting a homer on Sunday. “We are just putting good swings on the ball and they are flying out.
“But, when that doesn’t happen, like today, you have to know how to execute the small-ball game to get the offense going.’’
After McCleney tied the game, Andrew Meggs, an infielder from Creighton making his Danville Dans debut, followed with a fly ball to left field that just barely scored Santiano Rivera from third base.
According to home plate umpire Chris King, Rivera was able to get his hand on home plate before Richards applied the tag.
That ruling didn’t sit well with the CornBelters. Both Richards and first baseman Canyon McWilliams were ejected from the game.
“In that seventh inning, we just used our approach of get them on, get them over and get them in,’’ Coleman said. “It worked today.
“You have to be able to adapt in this game. Today, we had to play ‘small ball’ and (Saturday) we were more physical with 18 runs on 14 hits.’’
The other part of that winning equation for the Dans was an excellent pitching performance from starter Blake Malatestinic along with reliever Jackson Kelley, who was also making his Danville Dans debut.
Malatestinic went six innings, allowing just two runs on five hits, while walking two and striking out two.
Kelley followed with three shutout and hitless innings, while he walked two and also struck out two. Kelley was credited with the victory to improve to 1-0.
Danville, which has won its last two games, ended the week with a 3-3 record and the Dans are 6-4, just 1.5 games behind the Champion City Kings and the Lafayette Aviators for first place in the Prospect League’s East Division.
“We don’t ever want to have a losing week,’’ said Coleman. “We bounced back from a couple of tough losses to Lafayette and we get another chance against them on Tuesday.’’