SOUTH BEND — The West Michigan Whitecaps captured the first half Midwest League Eastern Division baseball crown with a 4-1 win over the South Bend Silver Hawks on Sunday, June 15, at Four Winds Field.
West Michigan (41-29) plated all four of its runs in the top of the sixth inning while South Bend (40-29) could only manage one run despite nine walks as the Hawks left 14 men on base and went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
The Silver Hawks, Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, jumped out to a lead in the bottom of the second inning. Catcher Michael Perez led off with a double to shallow left. Perez was able to perfectly place the ball in no-man’s land as left fielder Raph Rhymes, shortstop Willy Adames, and third baseman Jose Zambrano all gave chase. Third baseman George Roberts lofted a ball to deep center to allow Perez to move up to third. Then, left fielder Chuck Taylor collected an RBI on his sacrifice fly to right as Perez scored to put the Hawks in front 1-0.
The Whitecaps, Class-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, were kept at bay until the six. Rhymes led off with a bloop double as the ball fell in between second baseman Jamie Westbrook and right fielder Stryker Trahan in shallow right. It looked like Westbrook had the ball in his sights but was called off by Trahan at the last second.
The confusion allowed the ball to drop and Rhymes to collect a double. First baseman Dominic Ficociello followed with a broken bat infield single to advance Rhymes to third. Designated hitter Jeff Holm then connected on a single to shallow center to score Rhymes to knot the score at 1-1, while moving Ficociello over to second.
Right fielder Wynton Bernard lined a single back up the middle to center that scored Ficociello from second, moved Holm up to second and gave West Michigan a 2-1 lead. Adames laid down a sacrifice bunt pushing Holm to third and Bernard to second. It kept getting worse for South Bend starter Blayne Weller (L, 3-4) as he plunked catcher Bennett Pickar to load the bases.
The Whitecaps capitalized on the defensive miscues as Zambrano dunked the ball over a drawn in Daniel Palka at first to enable Holm and Bernard to score and give West Michigan a 4-1 lead. That ended Weller’s day as he was replaced by Jose Jose who escaped the inning with no further trouble. Weller tossed 5 2/3 innings allowing four runs on nine hits, while striking out eight.
The Whitecaps bullpen kept the Hawks from getting any closer. Joe Mantiply and Zac Reininger (S, 4) combined for 3 1/3 innings of scoreless ball as they sat down 5 Hawks on strikes.
This allowed West Michigan starter Kevin Ziomek (W, 5-5) to collect his fifth win of the season. South Bend was not without opportunities as they had runners in scoring position in the sixth and eighth innings but stranded the runners to finish with a total of 14 left on for the afternoon.
The Midwest League All-Star Break begins on Monday, June 16, and the Hawks will not be back in action until Thursday, June 19th on the road at the Lake County Captains, Class-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
The Silver Hawks play their next game at Four Winds Field on Tuesday, June 24, when they begin a three game series with the Great Lakes Loons, Class-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers at 7:05pm. It will be a Triple Play Tuesday where fans can get a game ticket, hot dog, and a drink for $10.