CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Kit Scheetz took the mound Monday night ready to help the Quad-Cities River Bandits fight for a spot in the Midwest League Championships.
But before he even threw a pitch, Josh Rojas had Cedar Rapids reeling.
Rojas rattled a three-run double off the fence in the top of the first inning and Scheetz took over from there, leading Quad-Cities to a 6-1 victory over the Kernels in the third-and-deciding game of the Western Division Championship Series.
“Any pre-pitch nerves or jitters, they were gone when Rojas hit that double,’’ Scheetz said. “Then, it was just time to go to work.’’
Signed by the Astros as an undrafted free agent in June as a fifth-year senior from Virginia Tech, Scheetz riddled Cedar Rapids with his work.
The 5-foot-10 left-hander mixed arm angles, locations and changed speeds seamlessly, topping out at 88 miles per hour during the longest start of his professional career.
Scheetz worked 6.2 innings, throwing 62 strikes among his 95 pitches while limiting the Kernels to three hits. He struck out a career-high nine batters and walked just one before Salvador Montano and Robert Corniel finished off the four-hit victory.
“The way Scheetz and our relievers were throwing, the other team wasn’t getting back in this game,’’ Rojas said. “Our backs were against the wall, but we came here ready to win.’’
Manager Russ Steinhorn sensed that as well.
“On the bus ride up here, you could tell guys were loose, confident, ready,’’ Steinhorn said. “They played that way.’’
It didn’t hurt that Scheetz was working with a 3-0 lead before he threw his first pitch.
“In a game like this, that’s perfect,’’ Scheetz said.
A patient approach allowed the River Bandits got to Kernels starter Tyler Wells in the top of the first inning.
Colin Moran, Troy Sieber and Chuckie Robinson loaded the bases by reaching on one-out walks.
Rojas cleared them.
“After I hit the walk-off (on Saturday), they attacked me with the fastball the next game and I came out and went 0-for, so I came out ready to be aggressive to the fastball and make it work for me,’’ Rojas said. “He left one up in the zone and I was able to get some barrel on it.’’
Rojas drove a ball off the wall in right, a three-run double which gave Quad-Cities an early edge and gave Scheetz the ability to work his game.
“We had a good plan going in and he did a great job of executing it,’’ said Robinson, who called the pitches that led to 11 Cedar Rapids strikeouts. “They have a good hitting team, but Kit had it all working for him. He threw a great game.’’
Steinhorn liked the consistency he saw from Scheetz.
“He was working both sides of the plate, going after guys. It was pretty impressive stuff,’’ Steinhorn said. “From start to finish, he gave us a great effort when we needed it the most in a must-win game.’’
After the Kernels’ Shane Kennedy reached an infield single with one out in the second and was thrown out attempting to steal by catcher Chuckie Robinson, Scheetz retired the next 13 batters he faced.
Aaron Whitefield ended the streak, launching a leadoff homer over the fence in left to cut into a Quad-Cities lead which had grown to 4-0 with a run in the fourth inning off of Wells.
Rojas reached on a one-out single to right, advanced to third on a ground-rule double by J.J. Matijevic and scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Bryan De La Cruz.
After Cedar Rapids stranded a pair of baserunners in the bottom of the eighth, the River Bandits added a pair of insurance runs in the ninth when Robinson and Kristian Trompiz drove two-out RBI singles into right.
Quad-Cities pitchers only allowed more than one Cedar Rapids baserunner in just two innings, the first and eighth.
Scheetz ended the first with his first two strikeouts and In the eighth, Montano coaxed a pop-up out to end an 0-for-4 game for Royce Lewis, the overall No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and got Travis Blankenhorn to fly out to end the threat.
“Cedar Rapids has been right there with us all year, back and forth, so it didn’t surprise me that we found ourselves in Game 3,’’ Steinhorn said. “I also knew my guys would come ready to play to the last out. I’ve seen that all year, too.’’