O’FALLON, MO. – It took 12 seasons for the River City Rascals to finally claim their first Frontier League Championship in 2010. So it was probably fitting that their 2011 Opening Night Championship celebration party took a little while to finally end as well.
And boy did it ever take a while.
The host Rascals and visiting Normal CornBelters played the longest Opening Night game in Frontier League history Friday evening at T.R. Hughes Ballpark—four hours and eight minutes, with a 26-minute rain delay at the start.
But in the end the defending champs were able to do what they’ve always seemed to do, pull out a win in the end, claiming a 2-1 16-inning marathon victory over the CornBelters.
Frontier League rookie Jason Carr, who was inserted into the Rascals lineup in the 11th inning, after 2010 team MVP Stephen Holdren was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, drilled a line-drive single to right with the bases loaded to drive in new Rascals centerfielder Eric Williams to give River City the win in the first game of the season.
Friday’s fantastic ballgame went so many innings because the Opening Night starters for both teams were incredible.
River City’s Gary Moran went eight innings, and only gave up the one Normal run on three hits and three walks, while striking out eight.
His counterpart, Normal’s Ryan Sheldon was equally brilliant.
He took a two-hit shutout into the seventh, and only allowed a run after back-to-back doubles by Rascal designated hitter Brandon Johnson and second baseman Bobby Burk.
Normal got its run off Moran in the fifth, when first baseman Steve Alexander led off with a hit, advanced to second on four-pitch walk to rightfielder Asif Shah, then scored after a one-out double by designated hitter Chris Brown.
The CornBelters could have done more damage in the inning, after loading the bases with two outs. But Moran struck out Normal third baseman Daniel Cox to get out of the jam, and keep the score 1-0.
After the two starters left, it was up to the two bullpens to keep their teams in the game—and neither disappointed.
The River City relief crew of Derrick Miramontes, Kirkland Rivers, Richard Barrett, Sean Toler, Zach Robertson, and Brandon Cunniff pitched a combined eight innings of shutout relief, allowing just four combined hits, with only one walk, and 11 strikeouts.
Cunniff (1-0) got credit for the win after striking out the last Normal batter of the game catcher Jeff Dunbar.
Normal’s bullpen was just as good.
CornBelter relievers Marshall Schuler, Jeremy Brewer, Liam Ohlmann, and Michael Click also pitched eight innings of scoreless ball, while allowing a combined two hits with just one walk and 13 strikeouts, which included the punch-out of Holdren that led to his ejection in the 11th.
Jacob Liedka took over for Normal in the bottom of the 16th, and that proved to be the break River City needed.
After getting the first batter to popout, Liedka surrended a walk to River City’s Williams, a hit to Chris McClendon, which advanced Williams to third, and an intentional walk to Chad Maddox, before allowing the game-winning hit to Carr in his first professional ballgame appearance.
An opening-night crowd of 3,053 was treated to a ring celebration and banner-raising ceremony before the game, and a fireworks show afterward, which seemed to please the weary-eyed fans who stuck around for the four-plus hour ballgame.
The Rascals and CornBelters will be back in action later this evening for game two of their season-opening series. 2010 Frontier League Championship Series MVP Josh Lowey will get the ball for River City, while Normal will counter with righthander Tyler Lavigne.
First pitch at T.R. Hughes tonight is 7:05 p.m.
Other Frontier League scores from Friday night:
Southern Illinois Miners 4 Gateway Grizzlies 3 (13 innings)
Florence Freedom 8 Evansville Otters 4
Washington Wild Things 1 Joliet Slammers 0
Lake Erie Crushers 5 Windy City Thunderbolts 13
Traverse City Beach Bums 0 Rockford RiverHawks 6