By Andrew Johnson

COMSTOCK PARK – Baseball players often speak of next-play mentality after they make a crucial mistake.

On Friday evening West Michigan Whitecaps second baseman Cam Warner put that mentality into action in a 7-6 victory over Fort Wayne.

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, West Michigan trailed 6-5 when Warner stepping up to the plate with runners on second and third.

Warner fell behind 1-2 in the count before he singled to left field, scoring Drew Longley and Dylan Burdeaux without a throw to the plate.

Those two RBIs proved to be the game tying and winning RBIs. West Michigan reliever Clate Schmidt pitched a clean ninth inning. With two strikeouts, to clinch the win.

“In that situation with runners on second and third, I’m just trying to get a base hit,” said Warner about his crucial single. “I got down two strikes, but he left a slider over the plate.”

While Warner finished the night as the star of the game, an error earlier in the game was something he  had to battle through to keep the next-play mentality.

Fort Wayne had runners on first and second base with one out in the fourth when Rey Ilarraza grounded to second base. It looked like an easy double play was coming, but Warner misplayed the ball, allowing a run to score and two other runners to take an extra base.

“You just have to not think about it anymore,” said Warner. “You get ready for the next pitch and play. You just have to block it out.”

West Michigan acting manager Mike Hessman, who is filling in for ailing manager Mike Rabelo, was impressed with his team’s resolve.

“They go hard for nine innings,” said Hessman about the Whitecaps’ fight. “The best part about this team is that they constantly grind it out for nine innings. Cam got a huge hit for us there in the ninth inning.

“That’s the beauty of this game. You can have a little hiccup earlier in the game and somehow someway it finds you later in the game. A lot of people could’ve folded up and crawled into a hole, but he grinded and got the big hit for us.”

West Michigan finished the Fort Wayne series with two wins in three games and improved to 68-31 on the season.

The Whitecaps lead the second-half Midwest League Eastern Division standings with a 23-9 record, and are three games ahead of second place Fort Wayne.

Each team scored a run in the first inning before West Michigan added two runs in the second and one in the third to take a 4-1 lead.

Fort Wayne tied the game 4-4 in the fourth, and scored twice more in the fifth to take a 6-4 lead.

Fort Wayne held that lead with two outs in the eight until the decisive Whitecaps rally.

Zac Shepherd walked to start the rally and Longley followed with a single. Then Burdeaux doubled on a blooper to center field to score Shepherd and cut the deficit to 6-5.

Warner then followed up with his heroic single to left field that had the West Michigan dugout jumping with joy as they took the final lead.

Longley and Danny Pinero paced West Michigan with three hits apiece while Warner and Burdeaux each had two RBIs. Derek Hill also added two hits and a RBI for West Michigan.

West Michigan will next welcome in Lake County for a four-game series beginning on Saturday at 7 p.m.