The Southern Illinois Miners took control early with four runs in the second inning and got another brilliant start by reigning Pitcher of the Year Matt Bywater that included a career-best 12 strikeouts in a big 10-2 win over the Normal CornBelters at The Corn Crib in Normal on Friday night.
The Miners threatened almost immediately against Normal starter Kevin Brahney (3-1), who walked Aaron Gates and Michael Earley to open the game. The Miners did not score that inning, but ended up getting four runs in the next frame. Niko Vasquez led off with a walk, and Toby DeMello later drove him in with an RBI single after Jon Minucci walked with two outs. Gates then reached on an infield hit to load the bases for Earley, who hit a deep fly ball to right-center field that dropped for a bases-clearing triple and a 4-0 Miners lead.
Meanwhile, Bywater (4-0) was unhittable. The left-hander struck out seven Normal hitters in just the first three frames, including a rare four-strikeout inning in the third when one of the hitters ended up reaching base on a wild pitch. The Miners gave him four more runs in the fifth inning. With one out, Frank Martinez extended his hitting streak to eight games with an infield single before Vasquez hit a two-run homer over the right-center field fence for a 6-1 lead. It was the Miners’ first home run since May 16th at Lake Erie and Vasquez’s first of the season.
Southern Illinois would tack on four more hits immediately after the long ball, with Steve Marino and DeMello picking up RBIs on a double and single, respectively, to chase Brahney and blow the game open. They would add two more runs in the seventh as Marino doubled before Minucci drove him in with his first career triple, followed by another sacrifice fly by DeMello for his third RBI of the game.
Bywater ended up pitching eight innings and striking out a career-best 12 batters, besting the 11 from his previous start against Joliet to improve to 4-0 on the season. Offensively, Minucci and Marino had three hits apiece while DeMello and Vasquez had a pair of hits, with DeMello and Earley driving in three runs each as the Miners tied a season-high with ten runs. Their 14 hits was one off their season-high as well as the Miners improved to 6-1 on the road.
They will go for the series win on Saturday at 6:35 p.m., with Ryan Brockett opposing Normal’s Chris Carmain.
The Southern Illinois Miners are the 2014 Frontier League East Division Champions and the 2012 Frontier League Champions. They have been awarded the Frontier League Organization of the Year award three times since their inception, and also set a new Frontier League attendance record in 2007, their inaugural season. For ticket information, contact the Rent One Park box office at 618-998-8499. For any additional information, visit our website at www.southernillinoisminers.com