For Washington’s series finale Sunday against the Southern Illinois Miners, the Wild Things’ checklist of things they wanted to accomplish went like this:
Get a quality start from pitcher Justin Hall. Check.
Build an early lead. Check.
Outslug the Miners, who hit two home runs and scored 10 runs in the winning the middle game of the three-game series Saturday night. Check.
And most importantly, win the game and series. Check.
Hall and reliever Matt Phillips combined on a three-hitter, Mark Samuelson was 4-for-4 and a triple short of becoming the first Washington player to hit for the cycle, and Gus Benusa homered and reached base four times. It all added up to a 7-1 victory for the Wild Things.
Hall (2-0), who pitched a complete-game shutout in his first start of the season last week at Rockford, scattered three hits over eight innings. He lost his shutout – and gave up his only run of the year – in the third inning when Tyler Hall, the Miners’ leadoff batter, hit an opposite-field homer to left center.
“Justin set the tone for us,” Washington manager Bart Zeller said. “The guys fed off his ability to challenge hitters in the strike zone and get ahead in counts. We took advantage of some opportunities, and Gus and Mark each had good days barreling up some balls.”
Samuelson doubled home Benusa in the first inning to give Washington a 1-0 lead. He doubled again to lead off the third against Southern Illinois pitcher Drew Bailey (0-2), a reliever who was making a spot start. Samuelson singled in the fourth and hit a home run to right field leading off the seventh.
Samuelson (6-5, 250), who was acquired in a trade with the London Rippers last July, less than an hour before the Rippers folded, batted .250 in 36 games with the Wild Things and hit only two home runs, both in a game at Florence. He did finish the season by hitting safely in seven consecutive games, the result of a change in his stride made late in the season.
This year, Samuelson had a good season-opening series at Schaumburg, then had a bout with kidney stones and missed the entire series against Rockford. He was hitless Saturday in his first game back in the lineup, but Sunday’s performance showed the changes Samuelson has made. Each of his doubles went the opposite way, down the left-field line. The single was ground ball up the middle and the home run was to right field.
“Last year, I think I was a little too pull happy,” Samuelson said. “Early in the count, I can look to pull, but deeper in the count I need to be looking hit the ball the other way.”
The doubles came on counts of 2-1 and 2-2. The first scored Benusa and was followed two batters later by Stewart Ijames’ run-scoring double. Five of Washington’s first six hits were for extra bases.
Catcher Maxx Garrett doubled to start the second and scored on Benusa’s two-run homer, also hit the opposite way to left field.
Tyler Hall’s homer made the score 4-1, but the Wild Things scored two more runs in the bottom fo the third, taking advantage of Samuelson’s second double and three walks and a hit batsman by Southern Illinois reliever Michael Carden.
“When you’re playing Southern Illinois, you never know if you have enough runs,” Zeller said.
Justin Hall made sure the Wild Things have plenty of insurance runs. The Miners didn’t have a hit after the third inning. Hall retired eight of the last nine batters he faced.
“He probably could have had a complete game,” Zeller admitted.
Phillips retired Southern Illinois in order in the ninth as the Wild Things pushed their record to 5-4. … Shain Stoner, the Wild Things’ second baseman last year who played shortstop for the first six games of the season, started in left field. He made a terrific head-first diving catch of a foul fly ball in the Miners’ bullpen in the second inning. … Justin Hall and Bailey each are from Christiansburg, Va. … The Wild Things are off today before beginning a series Tuesday at Joliet, where Zeller was the manager the last two seasons.