BELOIT - Hindered greatly by the absence of clutch hitting, a flat effort by the pitching staff and a curious strike zone, the Beloit Snappers were non-competitive in Thursday night's playoff opener at Pohlman Field.
The Snappers fell to the Cedar Rapids Kernels 10-1, and now must travel to Cedar Rapids and sweep the Kernels in a doubleheader Friday if they are to advance to the Midwest League's Western Division finals.
Beloit struck out 15 times Thursday night, seven times watching the called third strike whiz by. Several of those were, shall we say, of the contested variety. Home plate umpire Chris Presley-Murphy was under fire from both sides all evening.
"It makes it tough on the hitters, that's for sure," Snappers manager Webster Garrison said. "It was an uphill battle. It's one of those things where when you do get your pitch, you jut can't miss it. You can't go up there thinking about the guys throwing balls and strikes and just battle. It's part of the game."
Not helping the Snappers' cause any was the fact that the Kernels threw highly-regarded Jhoun Duran, a 20-year-old acquired by the Twins in a deal for shortstop Eduardo Escobar. Duran went six innings and allowed just one run (which came in on a wild pitch with two outs) while striking out 10 Snappers.
Replacing him was Johan Quezada, who shut Beloit down over two innings, striking out four while flashing heat in the upper 90's.
"You just can't leave it up to the umpire," Jack Meggs said. "You don't necessarily get to the point where you have two strikes on a night like this, when a ball can go either way. You have to try and do damage early in the count."
The Snappers did have their share of opportunities against Duran, thanks in some measure to three Cedar Rapids errors. But the offense went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, leaving eight men on base. Beloit finished the evening with just four hits, only one of those for extra bases.
The Kernels jumped to a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a pair of solo home runs against Beloit starter Jared Poche. Beloit bounced back in the bottom of the inning with its only run.
Poche allowed two more runs in the third frame to make it 4-1 before being chased from the game. Jesus Zambrano and Slater Lee kept the game close for Beloit, tossing 4 2-3 scoreless innings while the offense failed to capitalize.
The game essentially ended on Joseph Camacho's first pitch of the evening. Camacho came in relief of Brandon Withers, entering the contest in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and the game still 4-1. Trey Cabbage quickly unloaded them, spraying a line-drive home run over the right field fence to make it 8-1.
Now the Snappers must sweep a doubleheader Friday night in Cedar Rapids, a place that has been difficult for them to win this season.
Outfielder Austin Beck has seen his team with its back against he wall, and believes they can come back again.
"I think we've got one more comeback left in us," Beck said. "They are a tough team, obviously. They won this half and they've got a lot of good players. I don't doubt that we are going to come out and give it our best to come out and try to advance to the next round. One thing, though. We've got to play better than we did tonight. You can't go out there and score one run and expect to win."
The first game will begin at 6 p.m. Friday.