Second-year man Ja’Vaun West delivered perhaps the best pitching performance of his career Thursday night at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Ill., when he tossed a complete-game, six-hitter to lead the Gateway Grizzlies to a 6-1 victory over the visiting Evansville Otters.
Gateway, which outscored Evansville 22-7 in winning all three games of the series, has now won nine of the 12 series its played this season, and can count four sweeps among them.
Evansville came to town the first place team in the Frontier League East Division, but leaves in third place having now fallen behind two other teams — the Traverse City Beach Bums and Florence Freedom — who are now tied for first.
On Thursday, the slumping Otters had almost no chance against the Atlanta, Mo., native West (6-1), who has flourished as a starter for the Grizzlies this season, after spending most of last year working out of the bullpen.
Officially, the former University of Indianapolis standout went all nine innings, and allowed just the one run, on six hits, with four strikeouts and three walks.
Evansville got its only run in the top of the seventh, when shortstop Ryan Kresky doubled with one out and catcher Sam Mahoney singled him in.
But that was the last trouble West would face, as he retired the next two batters to get out of that inning, then mowed down the final six Otters he faced in succession to close out the game.
Several Grizzlie hitters had big nights as well, as the team banged out 14 hits as a unit, to top 10 hits or more for the fifth game in a row.
Center fielder Antone DeJesus had four hits, and third baseman Chris McClendon and catcher Landon Hernandez had three hits apiece to lead the way.
McClendon, who’d gone more than a month between hitting his first and second home runs of the season, bashed his third homer of the year — and second one this week — for Gateway’s final run in the bottom of the sixth.
The big blow of the night came in the Grizzlies’ five-run fourth, when designated hitter Alex Guthrie put Gateway on the board with three-run shot — his second of the season — off Evansville starter Rich Hawkins (1-3).
RBI doubles by Hernandez and Jose Flores brought in Gateway’s other two runs.
SERIES PREVIEW — FRONTIER BASEBALL LEAGUE 2013
FLORENCE FREEDOM (22-14) at GATEWAY GRIZZLIES (24-11)
GCS BALLPARK — JUNE 28-30, 2013 — 7:05 p.m., 7:05 p.m., 3:05 p.m.
With the series against Evansville now completed, the Grizzlies will now focus on a weekend visit from the Florence Freedom — a club that like Gateway, has won three in a row.
The Freedom are led by first baseman Jeremy Hamilton, an outfielder by trade signed and activated by Florence on May 31, who in just 24 games, leads his team with a .329 batting average.
Left fielder David Harris leads the Freedom with six homers, and third baseman Jacob Tanis leads with 25 RBIs, while right fielder Byron Wiley might be Florence’s best overall hitter with a .317 average, four homers, and 20 RBIs.
On the mound, the Freedom are led by starters Michael Oros (3-0, 1.25 ERA) and Dan Jensen (4-1, 2.41 ERA), who will start for Florence on Friday.
Reliever Daniel DeSimone is tied for the league lead with seven wins, and closer Jorge Marban leads the league with 11 saves.
The entire Grizzlies offense has been on a tear it seems this week.
As a club, Gateway is hitting .301 in its last seven games, with DeJesus leading the way with 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats (.500 average), while Hernandez’s seven RBIs this week has helped him move into a tie with Jon Myers for the team lead at 25.
Friday — Florence RHP Dan Jensen (4-1, 2.41 ERA) vs. Gateway RHP Brett Higginbotham (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
Saturday — Florence RHP Chuck Weaver (0-0, 1.68 ERA) vs. Gateway LHP Gregg Downing (2-3, 6.25 ERA)
Sunday — Florence RHP Jason Wilson (1-3, 4.50 ERA) vs. Gateway RHP Tucker Jensen (4-1, 1.63 ERA)
FLORENCE FREEDOM …………. GATEWAY GRIZZLIES
5 Junior Arrojo – SS ………………… 3 Jonathan Johnson – 2B
15 David Harris – LF ………………. 25 Jose Flores – 1B
21 Byron Wiley – RF ………………. 10 Chris McClendon – 3B
10 Jacob Tanis – 3B ………………… 30 Landon Hernandez – C
4 Jeremy Hamilton – 1B ………….. 12 Jet Butler – RF
27 Jim Jacquot – C ………………….. 15 Jon Myers – LF
46 Gary Owens – DH ………………. 7 Vladimir Frias – SS
1 Pablo Bermudez – CF …………… 23 Antone DeJesus – CF
9 J.C. Figueroa – 2B ……………….. 14 Alex Guthrie – DH