By John Bohnenkamp
It was a steady climb from a big deficit until Brett McCleary put up a roadblock.
The Burlington Bees, down seven runs after 4 1/2 innings in Saturday’s Prospect League game against the Clinton LumberKings, rallied to tie the game, only to have McCleary deliver the eventual game-winning run with an eighth-inning home run in a 10-9 victory.
For all of the clutch hits the Bees (17-16 overall, 2-2 second half) had on the night, they couldn’t come up with one more in their half of the eighth, when they had two runners on to start the inning and didn’t score.
“We didn’t execute,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “We made a great comeback.”
The Bees, down 9-3 in the fifth, scored three runs in the bottom of the inning — two on Jackson Jones’ second home run of the game — and four in the seventh to tie the game.
But McCleary, who plays at Iowa, broke the tie with a home run to left-center field off Garrett Langrell (5-1).
The Bees tried to rally in the bottom of the inning. Zane Zielinski and Ben Nippolt led off with walks, then McClure called on pinch-hitter Nathan Ebersole to move the runners over. Ebersole tried to pull his bunt attempt back with two strikes, but base umpire Eric Gadski ruled on appeal that Ebersole had offered at the pitch for the third strike.
Reid Halfacre’s flyout and Lincoln Riley’s groundout ended the inning.
“We had a really tough call on the bunt,” McClure said. “That changed everything, obviously.”
Jones opened the scoring with a first-inning home run to right field, then Clinton scored three runs in the second off Bees starter Garrett Moltzan. Burlington got a run back in the fourth on Zielinski’s sacrifice fly.
The fifth was when the game fell apart for the Bees. A dropped third strike started the inning, then the failure to turn a double play ended up costing Burlington even more. By the time the inning was over, Clinton had a 9-2 lead.
“We had to make a play. We didn’t,” McClure said. “And you don’t win close games by not making plays.”
Ryne Schooley (2-1) was the winning pitcher. Graysen Drezek pitched the final two innings, striking out five, to pick up his first save.
“They played really hard, and you can’t take that away from them,” McClure said of the way his team battled back. “But we made mistakes, and that’s why we lost the ballgame. They played really hard, and I’m proud of them for that.”
Photo: Burlington’s Jackson Jones hits his second home run of the game in Saturday’s 10-9 loss to Clinton. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)