On the day when they lost their manager, the Wild Things regained sole possession of first place in the Frontier League’s East Division.
Hours after second-year manager Bart Zeller resigned citing “health reasons and concerns,” Washington received six shutout innings from its bullpen and second baseman Sam Montgomery drove in two runs in a 5-1 victory over the Florence Freedom at Consol Energy Park.
The win, combined with Lake Erie’s 3-2 victory in 10 innings over Evansville, moved the Wild Things (31-18) one game ahead of the Otters (31-20).
Washington completed a series sweep of Florence as the league enters its four-day all-star break.
Starting pitcher Scott Dunn and relievers Shawn Blackwell (6-1) and Pat Butler combined on a six-hitter. Dunn pitched the first three innings, allowing the Freedom’s lone run, a solo homer by catcher Joe Staley leading off the second inning.
Blackwell, a starter who is one of seven Washington players selected for the all-star game Wednesday night at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Ill., followed with five shutout innings, allowing only one hit and one walk. He struck out seven.
Butler pitched the ninth, getting two strikeouts.
“We had Scott on a pitch count, and he threw 25 in one inning, so his total got up there quickly. We thought we might go four with him,” said Bob Bozzuto, the Wild Things’ bench coach, who along with Bob Didier and Kevin Gryboski remain on the coaching staff.
Washington tied the score at 1-1 in the second inning, when Montgomery, the No. 9 hitter in the batting order, drove in Garrett Rau with a two-out single off Florence starter Chuck Weaver (4-3), who entered the game leading the league in ERA at 1.60.
Montgomery drove in Rau again in the fourth, putting Washington ahead 2-1. Rau had reached base on a leadoff walk, advanced on a fielder’s choice and a wild pitch and scored when Montgomery hit into a fielder’s choice against a drawn-in infield.
The Wild Things’ lead went to 4-1 in the fifth as singles by Scott Kalamar, Stewart Ijames and Carter Bell along with a fielder’s choice ground ball by Rau produced two runs.
Montgomery, who had two hits, doubled with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and scored on a single up the middle by Danny Poma.
“Montgomery had a good series,” Bozzuto said. “He had a highlight-reel night defensively Saturday night, then drives in a couple of runs tonight from the bottom of the order.”
The win improved the Wild Things’ home record to 20-10 and was only their second victory in a Sunday game this season. The last Sunday victory was the first game of a doubleheader May 25 at Rockford.
“We’re right where we want to be, in first place,” Washington catcher Jim Vahalik said. “There were some extra-inning and one-run games, and even Sunday home games, that we would like to have back, but to get three wins in a row before the all-star break puts us in a good frame of mind.”
It also was Washington’s first win without a manager.
“The important thing is the guys stick together and play for each other,” Bozzuto said.
The start of the game was delayed 63 minutes by rain. … Ijames, who entered Sunday tied for the league lead in homers (15) with River City catcher Josh Ludy, will be one of 10 participants Tuesday night in the Home Run Derby at the all-star game. Ludy also will participate.