MARION -- The Southern Illinois Miners received a dominant start from right-hander Zach Cooper on the mound as he tossed a complete-game, three-hitter with a career-best nine strikeouts in a 4-2 win over the Gateway Grizzlies on Thursday night in their final home contest of the 2017 season.
After Cooper (6-10) retired the first six batters he faced, the Grizzlies struck for their two runs in the third inning on a bases-loaded fielder's choice by Brent Sakurai and a subsequent RBI single by Terry McClure to make the score 2-0 Gateway.
It remained that way until the bottom of the fifth inning, when the Miners got their bats going after rookie right-hander Dalton Shalberg (0-3) had pitched four shutout innings.
Ben Moore and Culver Plant worked back-to-back leadoff walks and were advanced to second and third base on a bunt by London Lindley. Then, on the first pitch he saw from Shalberg, Romeo Cortina blasted a go-ahead three-run home run down the left field line, turning a two-run deficit into a 3-2 Miners lead with one swing.
Cooper took it from there, as he allowed just one baserunner for the rest of the game, retiring a remarkable 19 of the final 20 hitters he faced in the contest. He finished with his first career complete game, allowing just three hits and one walk while setting a new career high by striking out nine Grizzlies and tossing 78 of his 104 pitches for strikes in his final start for the Miners.
Offensively, Cortina went 2-for-4 with a double, homer and three RBIs while Craig Massey, also playing in his final home game as a Miner, added a 2-for-4 game with an RBI single in his final at-bat in front of the Miners' faithful to add insurance in the bottom of the eighth inning and produce the final margin of victory.
On Wednesday, the Miners trailed 3-0 after the top of the first inning but rebounded with two runs in their half of the first and then two more in the second inning to take the lead for good, eventually piling on for an 8-3 win.
After Gateway used four hits to take a three-run lead off Matt Parish, the Miners struck back immediately in the bottom of the first. Cortina reached on an error and came home on an RBI triple by Brett Wiley to make it 3-1. A sacrifice fly by Nolan Earley then brought the Miners within 3-2 against Gateway starter Will Anderson (2-14).
After getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning, the Miners grabbed the lead for good by scoring a pair of runs on a sacrifice fly by Cortina and an RBI single by Wiley. They extended their lead with two more runs in the fourth inning when Plant and Lindley led off with singles and later scored on a single by Wiley to make it 6-3. Ryan Lashley drove in runs in the sixth and eighth innings for insurance.
Parish (4-4) settled down in a big way after allowing seven hits and three runs in the first two innings, as the right-hander permitted only one more hit in his final four-plus innings of work, finishing with three walks and three strikeouts to get the win.
Wiley went 3-for-3 with a triple, a pair of walks, three runs scored and four RBIs as he reached base safely in all five of his plate appearances.
The series began Tuesday with Gateway winning, 6-3. The Miners scored two of those runs in the ninth and had the tying run at the plate when the game ended. Massey drove in two runs for the Miners.
Southern Illinois will complete its season this weekend on the road, taking on the River City Rascals at CarShield Field in O'Fallon, Missouri. The series will start Friday night at 6:35 p.m.