FLORENCE, Ky – Needing a win to secure their fourth straight series victory, the Florence Freedom, presented by Titan Mechanical Solutions, blistered the Southern Illinois Miners on the way to a, 14-2, win in the finale of the weekend series on Sunday night at UC Health Stadium.
Both starting pitchers got off to fast starts, but Florence (27-26) struck first against Southern Illinois (25-25) hurler Kurt Heyer (4-5). Ricky Ramirez Jr. led off the bottom of the second with a single and Jacob Wark worked a six-pitch walk to put two ducks on the pond for Jimmy Heck. In his second consecutive start, Heck drilled a ball down the left field line that caromed off the concrete wall in foul territory, scoring Ramirez Jr. and Wark easily as the Freedom took a, 2-0, edge. One batter later, Austin Wobrock knocked an RBI-double to right center and Florence found themselves up three going into the third.
Jordan Kraus (5-4) was magnificent on the bump for the Freedom, notching his team-leading eighth quality start by games end. The right-hander allowed one first inning single, but did not have to work around another base-runner until the top of the fifth. In that span, Kraus retired twelve straight batters.
The Freedom added on to their lead an inning later, jumping all over Heyer and chasing him from the game. Brower started things with a single, and Ewing pushed him to third with an ensuing double. Ramirez Jr. hit next, and proceeded to smack a two-run single to right as the Freedom moved in front, 5-0. Heyer then plunked Wark with two outs to bring up Heck who continued his stellar day at the dish with a single that setup runners on the corners for Wobrock. The short-stop shot a single to left that scored Wark and effectively ended the night for Heyer. Ryan Askew would toe the slab in relief, but promptly surrendered a two-run single to Harrison White who was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double. However, the damage had been done as Florence enjoyed an, 8-0, lead after three frames.
Heyer exited after only throwing 44 pitches over two and two-thirds innings, while being charged with eight runs on ten hits and walking one. It was the first start of the season in which Heyer allowed more than three earned runs in an outing.
The scoring did not stop in the fourth, as Florence pushed two more across. After Caleb Lopes singled and Brower walked, Ewing helped the Freedom tack on another run with an RBI single of his own to plate Lopes. The merry-go-round continued as Florence loaded the bases, but Askew was able to limit the damage to only one additional run when Heck hit a ball to short that was mishandled by Marc DiLeo. As the ball bounced away, Brower trotted home, and the Freedom had broken double-digits by increasing their lead to, 10-0.
Southern Illinois was able to break up the shutout in the sixth when Kurt Wertz Jr. took Kraus deep to right and rounded the bases for the fourth time this season. The solo-shot made it a nine-run game.
Keivan Berges got that run back for Florence in the bottom of the sixth, however as he turned on a Nick Palacios fastball and launched his sixth homer of the season way out to left-center. With the homer, Berges now paces the Freedom in big-flies, breaking up what was a five-way tie at five. The solo blast put Florence in front, 11-1.
The Freedom added three more runs of insurance after the seventh inning stretch. With Lopes on base after a single, Ewing hit a missile that carried off the second row of signage at UC Health Stadium in left-center for his sixth round-tripper of the campaign, tying Berges for tops on the team. After Ramirez Jr. worked a walk, Berges made the score, 14-1, with a gapper double to right-center that scored Ramirez Jr. and gave Florence 20 hits on the night. The double also upped Berges‘ team best multi-hit game total to 16 on the season.
The Miners were able to scratch across one more run off Kraus in the eighth when Kyle Davis followed a Wertz Jr. single with an RBI-double to right, but the Miners would not score again.
Kraus was removed after eight dominant innings in which he threw 101 pitches and allowed two runs on five hits while walking one and striking out a season-high ten batters. The performance netted the right-hander his eighth quality start in twelve tries in 2018.
Christian DeLeon was called on for the ninth, and he faced only three batters as the Freedom finished off their fourth-straight series victory. Florence posted 14 runs on 22 hits, played a flawless game defensively and got more terrific pitching in another complete team effort that netted the crimson and white their fourth straight series victory.
The Freedom will now enjoy a day off on Monday before beginning their lone home series against the Traverse City Beach Bums on Tuesday night. Chuck Weaver will get the start in game one of that series, and first pitch is scheduled for 6:35 pm at UC Health Stadium.