Saturday, May 10, 2008

Miners top Railcats to win opener

BY D.W. NORRIS, For the Southern

MARION - Southern Illinois manager Mike Pinto said he wanted to see how his pitching staff would react to live batters in Saturday's exhibition game with the Gary South Shore Railcats.

He got his answer as seven Miners (1-0) combined to twirl a one-hitter in a 1-0 victory over the Railcats before 1,287 fans at Rent One Park.

Third baseman Brandon Jones drove in shortstop Mike Scanzano for the game-winning run on a fielder's choice in the third inning.

But obviously, the night's storyline was pitching and defense.

The Miners retired the Railcats' final 16 batters and held them hitless after the second inning. None of the Railcats five base runners advanced past second. Only starter Ryan Quigley allowed a hit.

"I saw a lot of good things (out of my pitchers)," Pinto said. "(Jake) McMurran, I liked the way the ball came out of his hand. Brian Blomquist did a very good job. He had a high percentage of first-pitch strikes. I want to say he was near 80 percent."

Blomquist (1-0) had arguably the most effective night in the "Johnny Wholestaff" win, striking out three in two innings. He also started the Railcats' hitless streak.

McMurran tossed a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Griffin Bailey nailed down the win in the ninth.

The guys behind and in front of the pitchers did their jobs, too. The Miners' defense was rock solid up the middle in the win.

"The guys did a good job. We made a lot of nice plays," Pinto said. "The two double plays early on, (catcher) Jake Smith throwing two guys out at second base really showed me something."

All three plays came in the game's first three frames and all three ended what could have turned into big innings for the Railcats (3-1).

"Certainly the pitching staff and the defense of the Miners tonight were sensational," Railcats manager Greg Tagert said.

Scanzano and second baseman Tony Roth turned double plays that ended both the first and second innings with runners on first and second base. Miners first base coach Ralph Santana and Scanzano were the Frontier League's most electrifying double-play combination last season.

Scanzano said he didn't miss a beat with Roth as his pivot man.

"He's great," Scanzano said. "He gets rid of it quick and he did a great job tonight for us."

Smith had a twin killing of his own in the third after lefty George Biddle walked back-to-back batters. Smith easily gunned down Railcats leadoff hitter Mike Reese and right fielder John McCarthy.

"Oh man, he's got a cannon," Scanzano said. "I was definitely impressed. He threw out some quick runners ? he's got a plus-plus arm."

Aside from his defense, Scanzano provided the spark in the Miners' run-scoring third inning with the best at-bat of the night. Scanzano battled back from a 1-2 hole to run the count full. He fouled off a handful of pitches before slicing a leadoff single to right field.

Centerfielder Kevin Koski followed with an infield single. Roth advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt to the right side of the infield to set the stage for Jones' RBI.

First baseman Tim Dorn paced the Miners with a pair of hard-hit singles in his two at-bats.

"It's early, but I'm going to take it as a good thing," Dorn said. "I'm striking the ball well and I just want to keep it rolling day by day."

Left fielder Eric Suttle provided Southern Illinois with its only other hit and designated hitter Joey Metropolous drew a walk. Quigley walked two and hit a batter in his two-inning start. Nick Tisone allowed a walk in the fourth inning.

Up next for the Miners is a pair of exhibition games Monday with host Schaumburg Flyers and the Windy City Thunderbolts, the defending Frontier League champions

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