For the Quad-Cities River Bandits, Friday’s season finale proved to be an exercise in frustration.
Quad-Cities left the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh innings and left eight of the 11 runners it stranded on base in scoring position, leading to a 4-2 loss to Cedar Rapids in the third-and-deciding game of a Midwest League semifinal series at Modern Woodmen Park.
The River Bandits brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, but the multitude of missed opportunities left Quad-Cities unable to capitalize on an 18-strikeout performance by pitchers Matt Ruppenthal and Jose Rivera.
"Our best players tonight were on the mound and unfortunately, they weren’t in a position to score any runs for us," River Bandits manager Ray Hernandez said. "We had so many opportunities. We just couldn’t cash in on them."
Quad-Cities scored late after spotting the Kernels a 3-0 lead, pushing single runs across in the seventh and ninth innings, the latter coming on a Grae Kessinger single that scored C.J. Stubbs after he reached on an error.
But, the Kernels secured a spot in the Midwest League postseason semifinals for the sixth consecutive year when reliever Austin Schulfer got Austin Dennis to fly out and Oscar Campos to ground out to end the River Bandits’ postseason run.
After watching Cedar Rapids players celebrate, the silent reality that an 80-59 season had ended filled the Quad-Cities clubhouse.
"It's tough right now, but our guys can be proud of the season they had," Hernandez said. "We lost to a good team that pitched well throughout this series, a well-managed club that will do well as they advance."
Cedar Rapids begins its Western Division Championship Series today, visiting Clinton at 6:30 p.m.
The Kernels earned that chance after Josh Winder frustrated the River Bandits through the game’s first six innings, scattering six hits and striking out seven batters during a walk-free start.
"They never let us get anything going," Hernandez said.
Quad-Cities stranded runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings before loading the bases with one out in the sixth inning.
Stubbs opened the inning with a double to right before Kessinger reached on an infield single to shortstop.
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Dennis, who singled and doubled in his first two at-bats, struck out before Campos reached on a fielding error by shortstop Wander Javier.
Winder struck out Wilyer Abreu and Alex Holderbach flew out to center to leave the bases jammed and the Kernels in control, 3-0.
The River Bandits left the bases loaded again in the seventh after managing to push one run across.
Alex McKenna and Ramiro Rodriguez greeted reliever Jose Martinez with back-to-back singles, and after Michael Wielansky struck out with runners on the corners, Stubbs launched a sacrifice fly to right to put Quad-Cities on the board.
Kessinger and Dennis walked to load the bases, but Campos grounded out to second to end the River Bandits’ chances of cutting deeper into the Kernels’ lead.
Cedar Rapids took the lead off of Quad-Cities starter Matt Ruppenthal in the top of the first inning.
Gabe Snyder, who finished second in the Midwest League with 19 home runs during the regular season, deposited his first long ball of the postseason over the fence with one out to give the Kernels a lead they would not relinquish.
"The homer, it gave them a chance to work with a lead," Hernandez said.
Snyder helped Cedar Rapids add to its edge in the fourth inning, splitting the gap in right center with a double to open a three-hit inning that ended the start for Ruppenthal.
Wander Javier brought Snyder home with a single to double the Kernels’ lead with one out in the fourth, a margin which reached 3-0 when Javier scored on a Chris Williams single to right after advancing when Tyler Webb walked.
Webb drove in the Kernels’ final run with a single in the top of the ninth, one of four hits allowed by River Bandits reliever Jose Rivera over the final five innings.
Rivera came in out of the pen to strike out 13 batters.
“He threw great," Hernandez said. "The plan was to go to him after we got a lead. We just never got to that point."