There are two days remaining in the Frontier League’s regular season and the Wild Things still have a chance to win the East Division title.
You have to wonder what their situation would be without closer Jonathan Kountis.
A hard-throwing right-hander, Kountis saved both ends of Washington’s doubleheader sweep Tuesday night over the Evansville Otters at Consol Energy Park.
Kountis got the final three outs in a 3-1 victory in the opener, then worked out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the last inning of the nightcap for a 2-1 Washington victory. The saves raised the league-record total to 32 for Kountis, who over the weekend was named the Frontier League’s Relief Pitcher of the Year.
Not bad for a guy who was miscast last year as a starting pitcher for the Frontier Greys, the league’s travel team.
“When we signed Kountis after last season, we told him this is what we envisioned,” Washington manager Bob Bozzuto said.
What the Wild Things expected was Kountis pitching the late innings in a pennant race. The sweep moves Washington (57-37) into second place in the East, one game behind Southern Illinois (58-36), which won 10-2 at Lake Erie.
Evansville (55-37) fell to third place, one game behind the Wild Things.
Washington can win the East title by winning one more game over the next two nights against Evansville than Southern Illinois wins at Lake Erie. If Washington and Southern Illinois finish tied for first place, then the Wild Things win the division based on winning the season series with the Miners.
Washington is in second place because the Wild Things received strong pitching in the doubleheader from Scott Dunn (8-5) and Troy Marks (5-1), and Kountis working out of a tight situation in the nightcap.
Marks took a perfect game into the seventh inning of the second game before giving up a clean single through the left side of the infield by J.R. Higley. Chris Elder followed by drawing a walk and Marks exited to a standing ovation.
Kountis entered and gave up a single to league MVP Shayne Houck that loaded the bases with no outs. However, Kountis struck out Jeremy Nowak and Chris Sweeney before a passed ball allowed Higley to score and put the potential go-ahead run at second base. Former Pitt standout John Schultz then had a long at-bat before grounding out to shortstop Ryan Kresky.
“The guy responds,” Bozzuto said of Kountis. “To have the bases loaded with no outs, with the 4, 5 and 6 hitters coming up, he takes care of business. He did an outstanding job.”
Marks was cruising until the seventh. He retired the first 18 Evansville hitters and had 10 strikeouts.
“Troy went into the seventh with a perfect game and then gave up a hit. The normal thing to do would be to take him out right there, but I didn’t want to have someone warming up and jinx it, so I had to let him go another batter,” Bozzuto explained. “I had Kountis throwing lightly on the other side of the building, where Marks couldn’t see him.”
Washington scored its runs in the third inning off Evansville starter Will Oliver (3-1). Austin Wobrock led off with a double and scored on a single by Danny Poma, who was thrown out trying to advance to second base. Later in the inning, Scott Kalamar doubled to extend his hitting streak to 18 games and he scored on a single by Carter Bell.
Dunn, a five-year veteran of the Frontier League, pitched 5 2/3 stellar innings in the opener and the bottom of Washington’s batting order generated three runs.
“Everybody is tired at this point in the season. Nobody is 100 percent,” Dunn said. “You’re beat down, but you have to find that finishing kick and force everything you’ve got left.”
Dunn, a South Side Beaver High School and Slippery Rock University product, was making his final start of the regular season. He gave up a run in the third inning, then found that finishing kick, retiring the final eight batters he faced before turning the game over to relievers Al Yevoli and Kountis.
Dunn allowed four singles and a walk. He struck out four and won for the fifth time in his last seven starts.
“I found a groove as the game went on,” Dunn said. “I was hitting my spots later in the game. … I would say I’m pitching better now than I have all season. Tonight, everything was going where I wanted it.”
Evansville took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third, when the only walk Dunn issued came around to score. Dunn walked Higley on a 3-2 pitch with two outs, then gave up consecutive singles to Elder and Houck, the latter producing a run.
Washington answered in bottom of the third, scoring two runs and taking advantage of a costly error by Evansville first baseman Nik Balog.
Kresky led off with a single against Otters starter Jose Velez (2-5), who struck out 16 over seven innings in his previous start Aug. 27 against Windy City. Wobrock, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, followed with a perfectly placed bunt single up the first-base line.
Two outs later, Kalamar laced a single up the middle that scored Kresky from second base and tied the score. Bell followed with a towering popup on the right side of the infield that appeared it would end the inning. However, with a strong breeze blowing out to left field, Balog called for the popup, which was blown toward second baseman Phillip Wilson. Balog dropped the ball as Wilson scrambled to get out of the way. Meanwhile, Wobrock alertly raced around from second base to give the Wild Things a 2-1 lead.
Washington tacked on an insurance run in the fifth with some daring baserunning by Andrew Heck. The Washington left fielder legged out a leadoff triple to the angle in the outfield wall in left centerfield. Heck was still at third base with one out, when against a drawn-in infield Wobrock hit a grounder to Houck at third base. Houck looked at Heck and then threw out Wobrock at first base.
Heck, however, took off for home plate when Houck threw to first base. He seemed to catch the Otters by surprise and beat Balog’s throw to the plate, giving Dunn a 3-1 cushion.
“Heck’s speed didn’t surprise me,” Dunn said. “Remember, I played with him when both of us were at Traverse City.
“I tell the guys all the time to play these games with everything you have and leave no regrets. The way we’re playing, we’re getting the job done.”
Dunn exited after retiring the first two batters in the sixth and Yevoli struck out the only batter he faced. Kountis got the final three outs.
Kalamar’s hitting streak is the second-longest in the league this season. … Evansville was playing its fifth consecutive doubleheader. The Otters haven’t played a nine-inning game since Aug. 22. … Evansville was playing its first game in Washington since June 17, 2013. … Former Wild Things left fielder C.J. Beatty, who was named to the all-league team even after having his contract purchased by the Chicago White Sox last month, attended the game. Beatty had been playing for Class A Winston-Salem but the South Atlantic League season ended over the weekend.