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Billy Spottiswood tosses gem as RailCats take 2-1 series lead over Fargo

Gary 09/06/13-- RailCats  Cristian Guerrero celebrates with his team after scoring run against Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks. The RailCats were taking

Gary, 09/06/13-- RailCats , Cristian Guerrero, celebrates with his team after scoring a run against the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks. The RailCats were taking on the Redhawks, during game three of the American Association playoff semifinals. | Adam Alexander~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 8, 2013 6:15AM



GARY — Zach Penprase ducked his head, and began his trot around the bases after crushing a no-doubt homer to left field to lead off Friday night’s Game 3 of an American Association semifinal series.

But Fargo-Moorhead didn’t muster anything else against RailCats starter Billy Spottiswood.

Behind the right-hander’s sensational complete game, Gary topped the RedHawks 3-1 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.

“Baby,” RailCats manager Greg Tagert said. “The start was exactly what Fargo was looking for after a night like last night (an 11-2 win for the RailCats in Game 2). I know Zach Penprase too well over the years — he’s an electric player and he can do some electric things.

“You talk about masterful — against that lineup, against those hitters.”

Spottiswood allowed three hits, including two to Penprase, with one walk and five strikeouts. He retired the final 15 batters of the game.

“I didn’t even know,” said Spottiswood, who threw the first complete game of his career. “Getting in a groove, you don’t even realize stuff like that happens. (Catcher) Craig (Maddox) and I had a pretty good thing going, we were pretty much connected. He was helping me out back there.”

RedHawks manager Doug Simunic credited Spottiswood for his performance.

“He spotted the ball around, a lot of cutters, a lot of pitches low, went up over the hands when he had to get people out,” Simunic said. “He pitched a good game.”

So too did RedHawks rookie Brian Ernst, who also went the distance, allowing two earned runs on five hits with one walk and seven strikeouts.

All of the game’s runs, actually, came in the first inning, even after both teams had arrived in the late morning on Friday following the overnight bus trip from Fargo.

After Penprase opened the game with his homer, the RailCats answered with three runs, courtesy of Maddox’s base-clearing triple to right-center with one out.

“The whole night can’t happen without Craig Maddox’s big blow. … The batting average is never high, but I’m telling you, the big hits over the years since we’ve had him since 2011, and that’s about as big as he’s had as a RailCat,” Tagert said.

Ernst wound up setting down the final 11 batters he faced.

“He made a mistake early to Maddox, threw him a first-pitch fastball with the bases loaded,” Simunic said. “He got the barrel on it and hit it in the gap, and that turned out to be the game. But a first-year guy, he did good.”

Penprase collected the RedHawks’ second hit of the game with one out in the third. Their first and only non-Penprase hit came when Tim Alberts singled to start the fifth, but they didn’t advance him; right fielder Mike Massaro made a diving catch on Buddy Sosnoskie’s liner for the first out of the inning.

Left fielder Adam Klein also tracked down two shots to the warning track, banging into the wall to snag Ronnie Bourquin’s blast in the third and grabbing C.J. Retherford’s ball in the sixth.

“It feels good to pitch when you have great defense,” Spottiswood said.

“It’s a big tip to the hitters. I gave up one to the first batter — I threw a nice pitch, he got it, a lot of it, obviously — and we score three to follow it up. That’s momentum in our favor.”

Now the RailCats will try to close out the series in Saturday night’s Game 4 behind right-hander Morgan Coombs (6-3, 4.95 ERA); the RedHawks will send lefty Jake Laber (10-5, 3.82) to the mound as they try to force a decisive Game 5 on Sunday.

“Our backs are to the wall,” Simunic said. “We have to come out here and win a ballgame. You have to win a ballgame — that’s all there is to it.”

Wichita already has advanced to the championship series, completing a sweep of Grand Prairie on Friday night. The Wingnuts won all three games via shutout.



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