CEDAR RAPIDS — When asked Sunday night for a scouting report on Quad Cities pitcher Kit Scheetz, Cedar Rapids Kernels pitching coach J.P. Martinez offered three words.
“He’s a thumber,” Martinez said.
That’s not an insult. In baseball parlance, it means a lefthander without a ton of velocity on his fastball.
He uses a lot of offspeed stuff, “thumbs” the ball up there to the plate. Monday night, he thumbed the Kernels right out of the playoffs.
Scheetz was sensational in pitching his way into the seventh inning and his River Bandits into the Midwest League finals via a 6-1 victory in a winner-take-all Game 3 of the Western Division Championship Series Monday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. A disappointing end to what overall was a good season for the Kernels.
The final record will stand at 75-66, playoffs included. Cedar Rapids qualified for the MWL postseason a fifth consecutive year and advanced to the second round a fourth straight year.
The franchise still hasn’t won a Midwest League title since 1994.
“Couldn’t have asked for a better team to play on,” said Kernels infielder Travis Blankenhorn. “It was a great experience.”
“They never quit,” said Kernels Manager Tommy Watkins. “A fun group to watch this year. I think the guys learned a lot, I learned a lot. We had our ups and downs, but it was a fun season. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but it was fun.”
An undrafted free agent signing of the parent Houston Astros this June after a fine college career at Virginia Tech, Scheetz retired 13 consecutive Kernels hitters at one point, his only real blemish being Aaron Whitefield’s solo home run leading off the seventh. Changing arm angles, speeds and location, he gave up just three hits and struck out a career-high nine, leaving after a couple of loud outs following Whitefield’s homer.
“He kept the ball down,” said Whitefield. “Kept it down, changed speeds. (Catcher) Chuckie Robinson behind the plate does a good job, and I think that helps out. We played them several times during the year, and it seemed like he always caught. He had a fair idea of where to pitch guys and where not to.”
Quad Cities got all the runs it needed thanks to Josh Rojas in the top of the first inning. Kernels starting pitcher Tyler Wells walked the bases loaded with one out but got Abraham Toro on a shallow fly to left for out number two, the runners holding.
With Wells on the verge of wiggling out of the jam, Rojas smashed an 0-1 fastball hard off the right-field fence for a three-run double. He singled to right with one out in the fourth, went to third on a J.J. Matijevic double and scored on a Bryan De La Cruz sacrifice fly.
“Any jitters you might have had (before the game) go away when Josh Rojas steps up there and gets a three-run double,” Scheetz said.
Thanks to a fine long relief outing from Bryan Sammons (3 1/3 scoreless innings), the Kernels did hang around and brought the tying run to the plate in the eighth against River Bandits reliever Salvador Montano after Shane Carrier doubled and Ben Rortvedt walked with one out.
But Royce Lewis popped to shallow right-center and Blankenhorn lined to left to end the threat. Lewis, the top overall draft pick in June, went 0-for-12 in this series after sitting out the first round against Kane County because of a strained hamstring.
Quad Cities added two insurance runs in the top of the ninth on run-scoring singles from Chuckie Robinson and Kristian Trompiz.
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“We dug ourselves a hole there in the first,” said Watkins, lamenting a Game 1 loss in which the Kernels could not hold on to a 4-0 lead in the seventh inning and lost in extra innings. “When we didn’t score a couple of runs there early, it’s kind of tough.”
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