MATTOON — By now, Jim Schmitz knows what he has in his best players. They’ve been the cogs of Mattoon’s 7-1 start to the season, Schmitz’s first as the Green Wave baseball coach.
It’s the rest of Mattoon’s roster, though, that still presents some unknowns and learning opportunities for Schmitz. He used Wednesday afternoon’s home game against Robinson to educate himself more on some of the players who have spent the first eight games largely as reserves.
“I have to still find some things,” Schmitz said. “The midweek games, I like to play other people because that’s the only way you test them. They looked good in practice, so you put them in.”
Mattoon lost 5-4 to Robinson Wednesday afternoon, its second loss of the year. Schmitz employed six pitchers in the first six frames in a bullpen day and rested a few of his regular starters one day after a doubleheader sweep of Charleston. Two regulars, Hayden Birdsong and Gunner Laughhunn, entered the game in the later innings as defensive substitutes, while Jackson Nichols pinch-ran once.
Even in the loss, Schmitz accomplished his goal of discovering more and seeing how his team responded to teaching points. The longtime Eastern Illinois coach highlighted Mattoon’s several opposite-field hits, a pregame emphasis, and turning an early 4-0 deficit into a tight game.
“Really excited to see that,” Schmitz said.
The game itself trudged along as if it were treading in a pool of molasses. It took nearly two and a half hours to complete, as the frequent Mattoon pitching changes lengthened inning breaks and a few Robinson hitters called multiple timeouts in an at-bat. At one point in the sixth inning, Robinson’s catcher overthrew the ball back to the mound and into centerfield, and the throwback to the pitcher sailed to home plate.
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All told, there were 10 walks, two hit batters, three errors, five wild pitches and just 11 hits. There was at least one baserunner in all but four half-innings. Mattoon pitchers, though allowing three total hits, tallied four of those wild pitches. Even though Robinson scored five runs, it was only credited with two RBI.
“If you don’t throw strikes, throw balls in the dirt, that’s what happens,” Schmitz said. “The position guys are like, ‘ugh.’ It’s like in basketball with a lot of turnovers. Throwing strikes keeps the guys in the game. If they score, at least you’re battling. But when you’re giving up wild pitches, that was a hard one.”
Mattoon threatened to steal a win in the bottom of the seventh when Trevor Smyser singled and Meade Johnson drew a walk with one out. That was as close as the Green Wave came, though. Austin Baker swatted a two-strike line drive down the left field line that landed about five feet foul to tie it but swung and missed at the next pitch to conclude the game.
Mattoon had runners on first and second with two outs in the sixth inning for leadoff hitter Jacob Spitz, who rolled a ground ball over second base for a run-scoring single to narrow the deficit to a run. Blake Sapp struck out to end the threat and leave Laughhunn on deck. Johnson returned for a second inning of work for the seventh and threw a perfect inning to keep Mattoon’s deficit at one.
Robinson began the scoring on Landon Roy’s RBI double in the top of the first, then added three more in the third inning. The first two scored on wild pitches, and the third on a sacrifice fly. Oddly enough, the Maroons had just two combined hits through three frames despite the four runs.
Mattoon scored three runs in the bottom of the third to make the score 4-3. Smyser and Brock Smith each plated a run with a single.