By Bill Smith
LOVES PARK, Ill. — The Rockford RiverHawks picked up three consecutive series wins over the Evansville Otters, Joliet Slammers and Washington Wild Things, but they dropped two of three games against the Gateway Grizzlies to wrap up the first half of the season.
At the midpoint of the season, Rockford stands at 19-28, sixth place in the Frontier League West. Rockford sported a 14-12 record at RiverHawks Stadium, but struggled to a 5-16 record on the road. The RiverHawks lead the Frontier League with a .285 team batting average, but they are dead last in team ERA at 5.59, more than a full point worse than the next closest team.
The RiverHawks played 47 of their 96 games in the first half of the season because of an early-season rainout at home that will be made up with a doubleheader July 25 against the Normal CornBelters.
After taking two of three games from the Evansville Otters at home from June 27-29, the RiverHawks took two of three from the defending Frontier League champion Joliet Slammers from June 30-July 2.
In the first game, Rockford trailed 5-2 into the seventh inning, but the bats came alive for nine runs in that frame off the Joliet bullpen, including a go-ahead bloop single by Carlos Luciano. Jet Butler capped off the inning with a grand slam home run, his seventh homer of the season and RiverHawks’ first grand slam of the year, to give Rockford an 11-5 lead and win.
The following day, Joliet’s Jim Schult (3-2) tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball to pick up the victory. Kyle Maunus’ two-run homer off Cody Hallahan in the second inning proved to be the difference.
In the series finale, Rockford’s Drew Rucinski pitched six innings of shutout ball to improve to 4-1 on the season, as the RiverHawks picked up a 5-2 victory.
The team hit the road, traveling to Washington, Pa., to take on the Washington Wild Things in a three-game series. Coming in, Rockford had lost six straight series to the Wild Things, but after dropping the opener July 3 by the score of 3-0, the team rebounded for consecutive victories to win the series.
In the first game, Wild Things’ starter Gary Lee (3-2) took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning, and Washington only surrendered two Rockford hits. The RiverHawks rebounded the following night on the Fourth of July with a 7-3 win. Evan Button broke a 2-2 fifth-inning tie with his second home run of the year to put Rockford ahead, and Ziggie VanderWall allowed just two runs in five innings to earn his fourth victory of the year.
In the series finale, Kyle Schepel (1-1) took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning in his first start, and the RiverHawks beat the Wild Things 5-2. Schepel allowed just one run on two hits while striking out seven in six innings pitched.
Rockford played host to the Gateway Grizzlies in the final series before the All-Star break. In the first contest, the RiverHawks prevailed 11-7 behind homers from Matt Greener, Javier Herrera and Devin Shepherd.
The following night, Gateway picked up a 5-2 win as they rallied for four runs in the seventh inning after trailing 2-0 heading into that frame. Jonathan Johnson’s two-run double off Mickey Cassidy (0-1) broke a 2-2 tie, and All-Star catcher Landon Hernandez homered in the eighth inning to extend the lead to 5-2. Tim Brown went the distance, giving up one earned run, to earn his fifth victory of the year.
In the final game before the All-Star break, the Grizzlies defeated the RiverHawks 10-5. Paul Tremlin pitched seven strong innings to improve to 4-0 on the season, and Jon Myers hit his team-leading ninth homer. Rockford’s Jet Butler went 2-for-4 with two runs scored in the loss, and VanderWall got the loss to fall to 4-3.
The RiverHawks had three players chosen as All-Stars — outfielder Herrera, third baseman Greener and pitcher Mike Lee. The All-Star Game festivities kick off July 10 with the State Farm Home Run Derby. Herrera was to participate in this event.
The game will be played the following day, July 11, at 6:30 p.m., at the Corn Crib in Normal, Ill.
Herrera is hitting a league-leading .379 with seven homers and 51 RBIs in 47 games played, while Greener is hitting .302 with four homers and 29 RBIs in 47 games. Lee made 13 appearances, six as a starter, and went 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA, striking out 59 in 41 innings.
The Atlanta Braves signed Lee to a minor-league contract following his final start, so he will not be participating in the event.
The RiverHawks return to action Friday, July 13, when they open a three-game series at the Evansville Otters.
From the July 11-17, 2012, issue