LIMA – The Northern Division standings got a whole lot tighter Sunday night.
First, second-place St. Clair won a doubleheader over Xenia.
Then, the Lima Locos dropped a 6-5 decision to Irish Hills at Simmons Field.
The Locos (23-13) now stand atop the Northern Division of the Great Lakes Collegiate League by only one-half game ahead of St. Clair (23-14).
Irish Hills (18-17) won two of three from the Locos in the series.
“We haven’t been playing solid baseball, overall,” Locos coach Jared Gaynor said. “I know we’re thin on pitching. Then, offensively, our bats aren’t coming alive until later in the game. We have to figure out how to get more comfortable early in the game and to try to have that same mentality in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings in the early innings.’’
Irish Hills scored one in the first, one in the fifth and four in the sixth to run out to a 6-0 lead.
The Locos cut the margin to 6-5 with two in the sixth and three in the seventh.
For the Locos, Malik Spratling (Gulf Coast) went 3 for 4 with two RBI.
“I felt like I’m seeing everything well,” the newest Locos player Spratling said. “I’m just trying to get better.’’
Cade Beloso was 2 for 5 with two doubles and two RBI.
Daniel Seres was 2 for 3 and Justin Wiley went 2 for 4.
Irish Hills took a 1-0 lead in the first.
Leadoff hitter Noah Suarez singled, went to second on a walk and stole third. He then came home on a balk by Locos starter Brison Finney.
Preston Pilat cranked a solo home run to left-center field to give Irish Hills a 2-0 lead in the fifth.
The Leprechauns added four runs in the sixth.
Zach Frieling had an RBI single to left gave Irish Hills a 3-0 lead.
That was it for Finney and on came Jake Meyer in relief.
Noah Suarez walked with the bases loaded and it was 4-0. Tommy Miller followed with a two-run single to right and the Leprechauns’ lead ballooned to 6-0.
The Locos came back with two runs in the sixth.
Spratling had an RBI double to make it 6-1. Beloso followed with an RBI double and it was 6-2.
The Locos pushed across three in the seventh to get within 6-5.
Jess Davis had an RBI double and it was 6-3. Spratling had an RBI single and it was 6-4.
Beloso’s RBI double to the left-center field fence brought the Locos within 6-5.
Right-hander Dan McMichael (Adrian) started for Irish Hills and got the win. He went five innings and gave up two runs, both earned, on four hits. He struck out four and walked one.
Meyer (Georgia Highlands/Spencerville) had his longest outing of the year, as he threw 3 2/3 shutout, two-hit innings. With his fastball and dropping change-up, he struck out two and walked three.
“I felt pretty good and was excited I got to go more than one (inning),” Meyer said.
Added Gaynor, “I thought he (Meyer) did a great job for us tonight.’’
The Locos’ Finney (Kennesaw State) went 5 1/3 innings and gave up six runs, all earned, on eight hits. He struck out four and walked two.
Finney threw 89 pitches, 55 for strikes.
The Locos expect to add two pitchers for this week’s road trip.
“Tomorrow will be a good day to get a breather, regroup and get ready to go for the last week,” Gaynor said. … “They (the new arms) have to be here by Tuesday or we’ll be looking to pick someone off the side of the street to pitch.’’
Locos notes: The Locos take to the road for a four-game road swing starting Tuesday and Wednesday at Muskegon, Mich. Then, it’s off to Windsor, Ontario, to face St. Clair Thursday and Friday. The Locos return home for their final regular-season home game at 7 p.m. Saturday against Grand Lake.
The Locos have now lost 14 players from opening day. The majority of those have headed home been because of injuries. Of the 14, two were named to the All-Star team, second baseman John Privitera (pulled quad) and pitcher A.G. Ayala (tendinitis forearm/elbow).
The Locos added four players this week, including pitcher Evan Baber (Chattahoochee Valley CC), pitcher Jake Wojciechowski (Owens CC) and outfielder/pitcher Malik Spratling (Gulf Coast State). Spratling is the brother of Locos shortstop Tyler Simon. Also added was UNOH’s Cody Niewinski.
Spratling joined the team after the All-Star break and is hitting .500 (7 for 14).
Wojciechowski and Baber are expected to join the team on Tuesday.
Anthony Amicangelo sat out Sunday to rest a sore hamstring.
The Locos have played six doubleheaders this year. They swept one and split five.