A dominant performance by the Quad Cities pitching staff was the story on Thursday night. Three pitchers combining for a six-hit shutout as the River Bandits took a 2-0 lead in the Midwest League Championship Series with a 5-0 victory over the South Bend Silver Hawks. Joe Bircher threw five scoreless innings to start the game and Jamaine Cotton retired nine straight over three innings of work with six strikeouts to lead the River Bandits’ staff.
Quad Cities, the Class-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, dominated the game from start to finish. The River Bandits took an early lead as they plated a run in the top of the second against Hawks starter Blake Perry (L, 0-1). With one out, former Silver Hawk Bobby Borchering crushed a 1-0 pitch from Perry over the right-center field wall and off the scoreboard for a 1-0 Quad Cities lead.
South Bend, the Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the second. First baseman Rudy Flores led off by punching an 0-2 pitch from Quad Cities starter Joe Bircher (W, 2-0) into left field for a single. Second baseman Fidel Pena followed with a line drive single to left to put runners at first and second with no outs. Catcher Roidany Aguila flew out to center for the first out of the inning and Flores tagged up on the play to advance to third. The Hawks went for the safety squeeze and while right fielder Mike Lang got the bunt down, it was right at River Bandits’ first baseman Borchering who fired to the plate to get Flores for the second out of the inning. With runners now at first and second and two outs, designated hitter Michael Perez cued a weak groundball in front of the plate and was retired 2-3 at first to end the inning with the River Bandits ahead 1-0.
Perry’s control deserted him in the fourth inning and the River Bandits took advantage to put Game 2 out of reach. After striking out shortstop Carlos Correa, the #1 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Perry walked left fielder Danry Vasquez. With Borchering at the plate, Perry tossed wild pitches that advance Vasquez to second and then to third. The eleventh pitch to Borchering was not just ball four but also went to the backstop, allowing Vasquez to score on the third wild pitch of the at-bat. Third baseman Rio Ruiz then continued his stellar series, lacing a double over the head of Chuck Taylor in left that scored Borchering all the way from first for a 3-0 River Bandits lead.
That was the end of the line for Perry as Jesse Darrah came out of the bullpen for his first action of the Midwest League Playoffs. Perry threw three and a third innings and allowed four earned runs on three hits, two walks, and three wild pitches. As Darrah was facing catcher Roberto Pena, Ruiz promptly stole third. Pena walked to put runners at first and third. Quad Cities was then able to successfully execute a safety squeeze as right fielder Jordan Scott got the bunt down and Ruiz scored for a 4-0 lead. Scott was retired on the play 1-4 at first for the second out of the inning. Designated hitter Brian Blasik hit a sharp grounder down the line that Hawks third baseman Brandon Drury snagged on its way to the outfield before turning and firing to gun down Blasik at first.
The Hawks got the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the fourth but continued to struggle with men in scoring position. Flores led off with a walk. Pena then singled to center to put men on first and second. Aguila flew out to right and Flores tagged to go to third. Lang walked to load the bases with one out for Perez. He hit a shallow fly ball to right off the end of his bat that was caught by Scott. Scott fired to the plate to get Flores for the third and final out of the inning.
River Bandits’ starting pitcher Bircher tossed five scoreless innings and worked around six hits and two walks to keep the Hawks off the board. The Quad Cities pitching staff was given another run to work with when the River Bandits tacked on a fifth run in the top of the sixth. With two outs, Ruiz doubled to the left-center field gap. Pena then laced a single to left that scored Ruiz for the 5-0 lead.
The River Bandits bullpen quashed any hopes of a Silver Hawks comeback with a dominant performance. Jamaine Cotton entered in the sixth and tossed three perfect innings, striking out the side in both the seventh and eighth innings. While Darrah, Enrique Burgos, and Tyler Green did their jobs and held the River Bandits, the Quad Cities bullpen did not allow the Hawks to get anything going. J.D. Osborne finished the game off for the River Bandits. He allowed a two-out base runner when he hit Lang with a pitch but retired Perez on a 3-1 ground out to end the game.
The series shifts to Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa, where the Hawks will look to sweep the remaining three games. Game 3 starts at 8pm. Aaron Blair (Playoffs: 2-0, 3.09 ERA) starts for South Bend while Josh Hader (Playoffs: 1-0, 1.29) gets the ball for Quad Cities. Game 4 (if necessary) will be at 6pm on Sunday evening and Game 5 (if necessary) begins at 8pm on Monday night. All times Eastern Daylight.