By Dave Hart
After finishing a close second last season, the Clippers are now 16-2 on the season, following Monday’s 4-3 victory over the River City Rapids at Davenport College. The victory was their fifth in a row.
They have a 5 ½ game lead over the second place Michigan Monarchs, who are 9-6 on the season and the only other team in the league with a winning record.
With 16 games left on the 34-game schedule, Clippers Manager Walt Gawkowski is not ready to claim a championship quite yet.
But he admits that this year’s squad is probably better than last year’s, despite the early season loss of standout outfielder Jamie Potts, who signed a professional contracts with the Texas Rangers.
“I think the team may be a little better, we have more speed and we swing the bat better,” Gawkowski said. “Our starting pitching has been outstanding, with the pitchers going deep into games. I have been having trouble finding innings to some of our relief pitchers.”
That was certainly the case on Monday. Starting pitcher Luke Smith, who has not seen a great deal of action this summer, held River City two a pair of runs in 6 ⅓ innings. Relief pitchers Brandon Melchert and Matt Williams were again outstanding, preserving the Clipper lead over the last 2 ⅔ innings.
The Clippers outhit the Rapids 12-8. Connor Seymour, Ryan Mergener, Adrian Anderson and Williams each had two hits while Mergener and Kyle Wise each had two RBIs.
“Luke (Smith) was outstanding,” Gawkowski said. “He hasn’t thrown a lot this summer so I wasn’t quite sure of what we would get. But he gave us a nice performance. Melchert pitched a solid inning and a half and Williams does what a closer is supposed to do.
“I also thought in a lot of ways this was our best offensive performance. We swung early in the counts and had a lot of solid hits.”
The Clippers opened the scoring in the first inning on a RBI groundout by Wise, scoring Seymour, who led off the game with a single.
Muskegon started off the fifth inning with four consecutive singles by Anderson, Williams, Seymour and Mergener.
Mergener’s single knocked in two runs to give the Clippers a 3-0 lead.
Wise knocked in another run with a single to give Muskegon a 4-0 lead.
River City, now 8-8 on the season, responded with runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but couldn’t complete the rally.
“It feel really good to get the win,” said Clippers catcher Connor Glick. “Going into the game I thought we looked flat, but we were able to get aggressive at the plate and get some solid hits up the middle.”