CEDAR RAPIDS — They didn’t score Saturday night, haven’t scored much in the playoffs at all and had only one run through eight innings Sunday night. Time to call it a season, right?
Nope. Not these Kardiac Kernels.
Two runs in the bottom of the ninth gave this klutch klub a stunning, 3-2 win over Clinton in Game 2 of the Midwest League Western Division finals. The last five victories at Veterans Memorial Stadium have come walk-off style, if you can believe that.
These teams play again Monday night at 6:35 here in a deciding Game 3, the winner advancing to the Midwest League Championship Series against the South Bend Cubs. It’s hard to bet against these Kernels at this point, considering this game and that they had to come out of a 0-1 hole and win two games at Quad Cities in the first round.
“Let’s go!” Kernels outfielder Tyler Webb said. “I’m ready.”
“We don’t ever stop battling,” said Kernels outfielder DaShawn Keirsey Jr. “That’s a good sign from a team like this.”
Webb and Keirsey Jr. were huge in this out-of-nowhere rally.
Matt Wallner led off the C.R. ninth by reaching on a two-base throwing error by Clinton shortstop Christopher Torres. Daniel Ozoria pinch ran for Wallner and went to third on Seth Gray’s lined single to right on an 0-2 pitch from losing LumberKings reliever Zach Wolf.
Webb tied it with a lined single into right-center field. He’s the only guy on this team that has hit in the playoffs: 9-for-14 in five games, including 3-for-3 with a walk in this game.
“Just trying to keep everything simple,” Webb said.
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With Gray on second and Webb on first with none out, Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman asked Keirsey Jr. to bunt the first pitch he saw from Wolf. But he let it go by for a strike, and Dinkelman took the bunt sign off, noticing Clinton was charging its third baseman toward home and its shortstop to third base to cover in a “wheel” defense.
Keirsey Jr. bounced Wolf’s second pitch up a wide-open middle and into center field, with Gray sliding home to win it.
“I was given the bunt sign, but, honestly, I haven’t bunted in awhile. It’s tough when you haven’t done it in awhile,” Keirsey Jr. said. “After that, I was able to swing away. It was a fastball. I just knew I had to make contact. With their infield moving, I knew something would happen if I made contact.”
“Good battle by the boys,” Dinkelman said. “We’ve done that all season, especially the second half. We’ve battled back in games, had good at-bats late, then somebody gets a big hit. Credit to the guys for not giving up and keeping playing through all nine innings.”
Dylan Thomas and Ricky Ramirez combined for 5 2/3 shutout relief innings, with Ramirez earning the victory. Tyler Palm gets the ball for the Kernels in Game 3.
He was 3-10 with a 4.39 earned run average in the regular season.
Cedar Rapids has been in the MWL Western Division Finals six consecutive years. A win Monday puts the Kernels into the league finals for the first time since 2015, when they lost a deciding Game 5 at home to West Michigan.
“Everybody battled up there at the plate in the ninth inning,” Webb said. “He left some pitches up, and we took advantage of it. We’ve been doing that all year late in games. We’ve really been pulling some good at-bats together in the ninth inning.”
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