Jones Named Prospect League Player Of The Year

By John Bohnenkamp

The Burlington Bees picked up one of the top honors in the organization’s first season in the Prospect League.

Catcher/outfielder Jackson Jones was named the league’s Mike Schmidt Player Of The Year on Wednesday.

Jones, who was also named to the West Conference All-Star Team as a designated hitter, led the league with 18 home runs and 17 doubles. He had 51 runs batted in, second most in the league, and batted .295 in 57 games. He also had a 1.035 OPS.

“He’s just a really, really good hitter,” Bees manager Gary McClure said earlier this season. “He just stays within all of the time. He’s always got a plan, got a great swing. He’s just a very mature hitter — he gets good pitches to hit and he puts good swings on them.”

Jones, who plays at Young Harris College in Georgia, had a 10-game hitting streak in June in which he raised his batting average to a season-high .363. He stayed above .300 until the final two games of the season. Jones had just one hit in his last 13 at-bats after being hit in the hand by a pitch in the July 28 game at Quincy.

Among the other awards:

• Cape Catfish manager Steve Larkin was named manager of the year after leading his team to the league title.

• Ryan Eiermann of the Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp was named the Pro Prospect of the Year and Starting Pitcher of the Year. Eiermann set a new league record with 109 strikeouts.

• Anthony Klein of the O’Fallon Hoots was named the Fireman of the Year. Klein was 5-1 with five saves.

• Iowa’s Brett McCleary, who played for the Clinton LumberKings, was the catcher on the West All-Star Team.

Photo: Burlington Bees catcher Jackson Jones was named the Prospect League’s player of the year on Wednesday. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: ‘This Is Going To Be Good’ — How The Unknowns Of 2021 Disappeared

By John Bohnenkamp

The biggest challenge, Tad Lowary said, was the unknown.

No one knew what to expect on May 30, when the Burlington Bees had their home opener against the Clinton LumberKings.

The Bees lost their affiliation with Minor League Baseball in December when Major League Baseball reduced the number of affiliates. Instead of a full season of Class A baseball, the Bees would be part of the Prospect League, a summer league of college players. Instead of 70 home games of major-league prospects, there would be 30 scheduled home games featuring a team of local players, and players from around the nation.

Lowary, who became the Bees’ manager of operations in April when general manager Kim Parker left to become the West Regional Supervisor for MLB, knew that it was a scramble to get ready for the season. MLB’s announcement came in December, which left the team not much time to put together a roster.

Plus, it had been almost 21 months since the Bees had played a home game — the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out all of the 2020 minor league season.

“There was a pretty short time frame,” Lowary said, “to figure it out.”

None of that mattered on that Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend, when Lowary looked out and saw the line for tickets stretching to the far end of the parking lot.

“It was insane,” Lowary said. “The line was all the way across our parking lot for several innings. The lines at the concession stands were clear across the concourse for the entire game.

“Having seen that, we were like, ‘This might work out. This is going to be good.’ It kind of eased our minds a little bit, that this might turn out well.”

A few hours before the Bees played their season finale against the Quincy Gems on Wednesday night, Lowary thought that, indeed, it had turned out well.

“For all of us in the office, on the staff, we’re really happy with how it went,” he said. “The overall support from the community has been outstanding.”

The Bees drew 2,897 fans for the opener. The final attendance for the season was 25,080 fans in 28 dates, an average of 896. That ranked seventh among the 16-team league.

Community Field had noise again, and it was something everyone noticed.

“I can’t get over the fan support,” Bees manager Gary McClure said after Wednesday’s game, which had an official attendance figure of 3,200 on a night where there was free admission. “We had great crowds all year that were into it. They were a part of (the game). It was exciting for the players.

“Even this last game tonight didn’t really mean anything. But all of those people show up, you feel a responsibility to go out and win the game.”

“The crowds have been more enthusiastic, I think,” Lowary said. “Part of it, I think, is being cooped up for the last year and a half. But part of it has been the way these guys play baseball. What you see on the field, how they cheer on their teammates, that feeds into it as well. Even the hard-core fans have said, ‘Hey, this is fun to watch.’”

If anything, Lowary said, the season has provided a foundation for the future.

The organization was left in limbo as MLB let the clock run out on the Professional Baseball Agreement with the minors at the end of September, 2020. Fall is usually the time when minor league teams begin selling advertising and ticket packages for the coming season, but all the Bees’ front office staff could do was wait for the decision they knew was coming.

“We were in such a holding pattern,” Lowary said. “I mean, we were sure, but not having anything official with Major League Baseball, we just couldn’t do anything.”

Once the decision came, the organization had to find a new league, and once an agreement was reached with the Prospect League, there was a scramble to put together a roster and sell a schedule to businesses and fans in the community.

“We were kind of forced to do things in a short window,” Lowary said.

Now, the window is already open for next season.

“It gives us a blueprint going into next year — these are the things we need to do, these are the things that went well, these are things that didn’t go so well,” Lowary said.

The short time frame also led to a scramble to find players.

“You do the best you can,” McClure said. “But we got some good players in here.”

Lowary and his staff treated game nights as if they were Midwest League games, and visiting teams noticed.

“You would see players out there on the field, taking pictures, things like that,” Lowary said. “I thought we did a good job of making this a good place for baseball.”

The Bees could get financial help from the Minor League Relief Act, a yet-to-be-passed bill in Congress that would provide professional teams grants of up to 45 percent of their total 2019 revenue because of the lost 2020 season due to the pandemic.

“I don’t know what the dollar amounts would look like at this point, or what the status (of the bill) is at this point,” Lowary said. “Any amount is going to help.”

There will be baseball at Community Field throughout the rest of the summer and fall — several weekend tournaments are scheduled, and Southeastern Community College will play its fall schedule at the ballpark. SCC will also play its spring schedule at Community Field next season.

One season for the new-look Bees was gone, the offseason was ahead.

But Lowary said he would take a deep breath of relief first.

“And then we’ll get started on next year,” he said, laughing.

The unknowns were long gone.

Photo: Fans fill Community Field for last Wednesday’s season finale for the Burlington Bees. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 11, GEMS 5: A Goodbye For Gray, A Farewell To 2021

By John Bohnenkamp

The final out of Jack Gray’s pitching career was a fly ball that settled into the glove of Burlington Bees left fielder Sam Monroe, just a couple of feet from the left-field wall.

With that, Bees manager Gary McClure popped out of the dugout to take Gray out of the game. The two hugged, then Gray hugged each of the Bees’ four infielders before leaving to a loud ovation.

The Bees’ 11-5 win over the Quincy Gems in Wednesday’s Prospect League game at Community Field was a goodbye to the season that brought a new kind of baseball to Burlington.

No longer a Class A minor-league affiliate, the Bees settled into their new summer league of college players. Some of those players were building for the future but for Gray, a local player whose grandfather had played such a big role in the history of the Bees, it was a chance to get in the final innings of his career, which included stops at nearby Carl Sandburg College and Western Illinois University.

The goodbye, Gray said, was “magical.”

“That was my very last time out as a pitcher,” said Gray, a graduate of Burlington’s Notre Dame High School. “To end it here, to end my career in Burlington, I almost started to cry. I started to tear up on that final out.”

Gray had pitched three scoreless innings, pumping his fist as shortstop Zane Zielinski secured Ryan Hutchinson’s grounder and threw him out at first base to end the eighth inning.

Gray wanted to get one more out.

Tyler Clark-Chiapparelli, who was leading off the ninth inning, hit a home run off Gray in the Bees’ 2-1 win at Quincy last Friday. Gray remembered that.

“I wasn’t supposed to go out in the ninth inning,” Gray said. “I told (McClure) I wanted one more at-bat. I said I wanted him, and then after that you could put in who you want.”

For a second, it looked like Clark-Chiapparelli’s drive was going to get out of the ballpark. But it died near the fence.

“I just left a fastball high and inside,” Gray said. “It was just magical to get him out right then and there.”

Gray’s grandfather, Ed Larson, was a long-time Midwest League executive who also served as the Burlington Baseball Association’s president during his career. Larson died in 2019 during the Bees’ last season in the Midwest League.

Getting a chance to play at the ballpark where he had seen so many games with his grandfather meant a lot to Gray.

“It’s been, really, a dream come true,” said Gray, who was 2-2 this season with a 4.64 earned run average. “Right after that (last out), the emotions started hitting me fast. I started thinking about my grandpa. It’s meant so much to me to be here.”

“He’s from here. I think he’s a fan favorite,” McClure said of the decision to keep Gray in the game. “He’s got a lot of heart. I love the kid. Just give him a chance to get that hitter out, and get an ovation.”

The Bees (28-32 overall, 13-18 second half) and Gems (27-32, 14-18) weren’t going to make the playoffs, so this was the finish line.

Quincy’s Andrew Fay played every position, starting the game at catcher before working his way around the infield and outfield. He ended the tour as the Gems’ final reliever, getting a strikeout and a ground out to end the eighth.

The Bees scored five runs in the first, adding two runs in the second and fourth innings before scoring single runs in the fifth and the eighth. Zielinski, the Bees’ leading hitter this season at .317, had three hits and scored four runs. Dylan Hale had three hits and drove in two runs. Rome Wallace and Justin Baehler each drove in two runs.

“It’s been kind of a long season,” McClure said. “We were just so up and down for so long. We just couldn’t really find our consistency, find our rhythm.

“You know, it was a good season. We had some kids hang in there and stay with us. I’m really appreciative of them. Proud of them.”

Gray held his No. 14 jersey in his hand as he talked about his season. He will start his new career as an assistant coach at Carl Sandburg in a week.

“I get to stay in baseball,” he said, smiling.

Photo: Burlington Bees pitcher Jack Gray threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings in Wednesday’s 11-5 win over Quincy. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: The Stories Of 2021 Built A Foundation

By John Bohnenkamp

The Burlington Bees will end their first season in the Prospect League with Wednesday’s home game with the Quincy Gems.

It was an uncertain time for baseball in the southeast Iowa community after Major League Baseball’s contraction of Minor League Baseball cost the city its Class A Midwest League franchise.

More than 2,000 people showed up for the Memorial Day weekend opener against the Clinton LumberKings — another contracted Midwest League team — beginning a summer of baseball that had some interesting story lines.

A look at five of the top stories:

Jackson Jones’ chase of the league’s home run record. The catcher-outfielder from Marietta, Georgia was one of the league’s best sluggers. Jones is batting .302 with a league-leading 18 home runs, two off the league’s single-season record, and a league-high 17 doubles.

Jones hit a rough stretch in recent weeks — he has just five hits in his last 37 at-bats — compounded by a hand injury suffered when he was hit by a pitch in the July 28 game against Quincy. He sat out Sunday’s game against Springfield after playing in Saturday’s doubleheader against Normal.

The quiet hitting of Zane Zielinski. The infielder from Chicago, Ill., leads the team with a .313 batting average.

Zielinski isn’t a power hitter — he has just four doubles and two home runs — but he’s become a reliable part of the Bees’ offense. He is batting .385 in the Bees’ last 10 games.

“He’s had a really good season offensively,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “He’s been hitting the baseball well. He’s been getting a couple of hits a game, and just had really good at-bats.”

The locals. Jack Gray pitched at Notre Dame High School. Reece Wissinger pitched for Burlington High School. This season, they got a chance to play for the hometown team.

Wissinger had a dominant season out of the Bees’ bullpen. The right-hander, who played at Southeastern Community College last season, was 3-0 with four saves and a 1.92 earned run average. Wissinger struck out 41 in 18 ⅔ innings, while walking just four. He gave up four earned runs, three of those coming in a June 26 loss to the Cape Catfish.

Gray had a family connection to the franchise — his grandfather, Ed Larson, was a former president of the Burlington Baseball Association and was a long-time Midwest League vice-president. Gray has thrown 30 innings in 21 games, with a 2-2 record and a 5.40 ERA.

Pitching success. The Bees had several pitchers who had strong seasons.

• Garrett Langrell went 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA.

• McLain Harris went 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA. He struck out 55 in 45 ⅔ innings.

• Chas Sagedahl had a strong finish to the season. He didn’t allow a run in three of his last five starts. Sagedahl had a 2.86 earned run average in those last five starts, and he struck out 10 in 6 ⅓ innings in Friday’s 2-1 win at Quincy.

• Jalen Evans was a late arrival, but he struck out 35 in 31 innings. Evans left the team in mid-July to begin his professional career, signing with Cleburne in the independent American Association.

Setting the baseline. The first season for the Bees in a new league was going to have its ups and downs. The team was built late, since it wasn’t until December when the official word came down that the franchise would lose its affiliation with MLB.

Now there’s a foundation. The players who have been here, whether on the Bees’ roster or with visiting teams, have seen the facility and what it offers. That will make it easier to put together a roster for next season.

The community has seen what the league is like as well. There’s stability within the organization, and the questions that have hung over the franchise in the last two years as MLB planned its contraction are gone.

The season ends on Wednesday. But it’s been a good beginning for the future.

Photo: The Clinton LumberKings and Burlington Bees stand for the national anthem before the home season opener in May. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

SLIDERS 7, BEES 5: The ‘Unexplainable’ Costs Bees In The 9th

By John Bohnenkamp

Gary McClure tried to explain what he called the “unexplainable.”

What could have been a crucial ninth-inning double play turned into the go-ahead runs in the Springfield Sliders’ 7-5 win over the Burlington Bees in Sunday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

“It’s really a tough loss,” McClure, the Bees’ manager, said. “Hard to swallow.”

The Bees had a chance at a double play with one on and nobody out in the ninth, but pitcher Jack Gray’s throwing error on a play where there was confusion about who was covering second base led to a three-run inning for the Sliders.

Gray, who had pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings, started the ninth inning and hit leadoff hitter Justus Burke with a pitch. Tate Wargo followed with a comebacker to Gray, who whirled and threw to second base, where neither shortstop Zane Zielinski nor second baseman Joey Fitzgerald made the play. The ball went into center field, allowing Burke to go to third base. Nick Terrell followed with a double off Gray to put Springfield up 6-5, then Terrell scored on Chase Kessinger’s double off Bees pitcher Jacob Greenan.

“They talk about who’s got the bag before the play,” McClure said. “Zielinski was supposed to have the bag. You know, he thought he saw Fitzgerald really close to the bag — which he was, basically on the bag — so he let up. And then Fitzgerald just let the ball go because I … I can’t explain it. It’s really unexplainable.

“The ballgame’s over. The ballgame’s over if we complete that play.”

The Bees had a chance to tie the game in the ninth inning. Dylan Hale opened the inning with a double, then Fitzgerald walked. Chase Honeycutt bunted the runners to second and third, but Rome Wallace struck out and pinch-hitter Justin Baehler grounded out to end the game.

Gray (2-2) was the losing pitcher.

“He pitched well,” McClure said. “We got the ground balls, we got the ground ball (on Wargo), and then the air kind of came out of the tire after that.”

The Bees (27-31 overall, 12-17 second half) trailed 4-3 in the fourth, but Zielinski’s sacrifice fly in the inning tied the game. They took the lead in the seventh when Fitzgerald singled to score Zielinski.

Cal Engebretson (1-0) was the winning pitcher.

Photo: Burlington Bees catcher Chase Honeycutt tags out Springfield’s Chase Kessinger to end the top of the ninth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

CORNBELTERS 8-3, BEES 0-4: Baker Provides Relief In Doubleheader Split

By John Bohnenkamp

KJ Baker wasn’t sure what he would get out of his first summer-league experience.

But the Burlington Bees left-hander has adapted well.

Baker picked up his first win in the Prospect League, giving the Bees 2 2/3 strong innings in relief in a 4-3 victory over the Normal CornBelters in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Community Field.

The CornBelters won, 8-0, in the first game.

Baker was a starting pitcher this season at Columbia State (Tenn.) Community College, going 2-2 with a 10.88 earned run average in 10 appearances.

He’s been sharp with the Bees, going 1-1 with a 2.42 ERA, all in relief.

“This is my first time playing in an actual summer league, so it’s been a great opportunity to play,” Baker said. “It’s way different than travel ball, or anything like that. It’s just a great opportunity to be looked at by other schools, even pro scouts.

“At the beginning of the year, I was kind of hurt, so I didn’t get to throw much. So that’s why I came here. I had to play summer ball.”

“KJ’s been huge,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “When he came in here, I didn’t know what we would get out of him. He didn’t have a great freshman year. The kid has gotten better and better. He’s mature on the mound, throws strikes. He goes at people. With his delivery, he hides the ball, and it gets on people quicker than they expect.”

Baker’s success has come with better control. He has 19 walks and 32 strikeouts in 26 innings with the Bees, compared to 30 walks and 37 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings at Columbia State.

“It’s been about getting ahead in the count,” Baker said. “Getting ahead, no walks.”

Baker said he had to adjust to coming out of the bullpen.

“It’s way different from starting,” he said. “It’s different, but I’m getting used to it. I kind of like it, actually.”

Baker entered the game in the fourth with the score tied at 2 and runners on first and second with one out, but got Drew Davis to ground into a double play to end the inning.

“That fired me up, gave me a lot of confidence,” Baker said.

In the sixth inning, with runners on second and third with one out, Baker struck out J.D. Bogart and Drew Davis to end the inning.

Baker’s night ended with a walk to Andy Bunton to lead off the seventh inning. Grady Gorgen surrendered a double to Will Carpenter to cut the Bees’ lead to 4-3, but Gorgen retired the next three hitters for his third save of the season.

The doubleheader was the last thing McClure needed this late in the season as the roster dwindles in the final days.

“I’m glad we made it through it, it’s over, and we got a win out of it,” McClure said.

Brock Reade, who will pitch for Southeastern Community College this fall, signed with the Bees just to give them a starting pitcher, and he delivered 3 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits.

“He got us far enough into the game to get us into the bullpen,” McClure said. “Threw strikes, got his breaking ball over.”

The Bees scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth to break the tie. Rome Wallace was hit by a pitch and later scored on a wild pitch. Justin Boehler walked and scored on Kory Olsen’s second sacrifice fly of the game.

The Bees had no offense in the first game, getting just four hits off Normal starter Caleb Buehrle (4-0) and reliever Jacob Lotz.

Burlington (27-30 overall, 12-16 second half) is three games back in the Great River Division with three to play.

“I just want them to know I’m proud of the guys who are here,” McClure said of the message for his team in the closing days. “Just keep grinding — for this city, for the Bees, for this team, it’s huge.”

Photo: KJ Baker was the winning pitcher in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: Riley’s Outfield Play Is All About Instinct

By John Bohnenkamp

Lincoln Riley knows he’s struggling with his hitting right now.

But there’s a big reason why he’s still in the Burlington Bees’ lineup — it’s his defense in center field.

Riley made two diving catches in Saturday’s 10-6 loss to the Lafayette Aviators, the latest in a season of big plays.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “He’s one of the better ones I’ve seen out there.”

Riley has logged 251 1/3 innings in center field this season, the most of anyone at the position in the Prospect League. He leads the league among center fielders with 58 putouts, and he doesn’t have an error.

“Just doing what I do, honestly,” Riley said. “Doing what I can to help the team. If I can’t do it on offense, I’ll do what I can on defense.”

Riley is batting .252 with three home runs and 26 runs batted in this season, but he has just one hit in his last 30 at-bats.

“I’m on kind of a cold streak,” Riley said. “Getting barrels, but they’re getting caught. But that’s baseball.”

Still, he’s on patrol out in center field every game.

McClure raved about the two catches in Saturday’s game, both long runs into the left-center field gap with the perfect dive at the end.

“The first one was unbelievable, the second one was ridiculous,” McClure said. “He’s full-speed in two steps, and he gets such great reads on balls, it’s unbelievable. He caught the one ball basically behind him, with his body toward the wall.

McClure shook his head in admiration.

“Great plays, great plays,” he said.

The second one, on a line drive by Lafayette’s Oscar Ponce in the ninth inning, earned Riley an enthusiastic thank-you point from reliever Jacob Greenan.

“I love coming back in, shaking their hand, them thanking me,” Riley said. “I really appreciate that.”

Riley’s ability to track down fly balls is something that is hard to teach, McClure said.

“He has that instinct — he’s moving when the ball is on the swing,” McClure said. “He reads swings. Good players do that on defense, they have that instinct, and he certainly has that. It’s really something you can’t touch, but he has that instinct. He gets to top speed so quickly. And when he gets to balls, he makes the catch.”

“Basically, it’s getting a good read, getting a good jump,” Riley said. “First couple of steps are big, and then the closing steps are big, too.”

Riley batted .304 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 56 games at Southeastern Community College this season.

His summer with the Bees has been a good education as he prepares to play at Eastern Illinois University next season.

“I’ve learned a ton, offensively and defensively,” he said.

The biggest lesson has come at the plate.

“Honestly, it’s been just being able to move on from at-bat to at-bat,” he said. “Just being able to flush one, being able to go on to the next. Just doing whatever you can to help the team.”

The Bees have been hit with plenty of roster turnover in the closing days of the season, but Riley plans on finishing.

“I wasn’t planning on leaving early at all,” he said. “Just stick it out the whole way. Playing 60 games, and then the spring season, it’s a lot. It’s tough on your body. But it’s been a fun experience.”

Photo: Burlington Bees center fielder Lincoln Riley has 58 putouts and no errors this season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 4, AVIATORS 3: Hale’s Homer Helps Snap Losing Streak

By John Bohnenkamp

Dylan Hale had been playing in the Cotton States League in Mississippi this summer when he got a call from a friend.

Burlington Bees catcher Chase Honeycutt, who was Hale’s teammate at Desoto Central High School in Southhaven, Miss., called Hale as the Bees’ roster numbers began to dwindle as the Prospect League season was coming to an end.

“He told me they needed some help. So I just came up here,” Hale said. “Just wanted to have some fun up here.”

What Hale did on Sunday certainly qualifies as fun.

Hale’s two-run home run in the eighth inning lifted the Bees to a 4-3 win over the Lafayette Aviators at Community Field.

The win snapped the Bees’ four-game losing streak, and it came in a game that lasted 1 hour, 56 minutes — so fast, in fact, the Bees’ post-game food hadn’t arrived yet.

Hale, who was 0-for-3 in the game and came in just batting .188 in five games after arriving in Burlington on Monday, homered off reliever Wil Moritz (0-1) with one out after Jackson Jones’ double into the right-center field gap.

“First three at-bats, I was struggling,” Hale said. “Looked a little bit goofy on the curveball.”

Five innings earlier, Jones was intentionally walked with two outs and no one on base to get to Hale, who struck out to end the inning.

“At the time, I was like, ‘OK, cool, let me show I can hit the ball,’” Hale said. “But I ended up striking out. So coming up in the fourth at-bat, hitting a home run, it was pretty cool.”

“Big home run,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “He’s capable of that. He’s got a nice swing. He finally got a pitch up. He had gotten a lot of pitches down today and got himself out. But he finally got a pitch up, hit it out of the yard.”

The Bees had given up an average of 11.3 runs in the losing streak, but starter Ricky Arthur and relievers Danny Perdzock and Grady Gorgen (2-1) combined to give up eight hits and keep the Aviators, who are tied for the league lead in runs scored, quiet.

Jones gave the Bees a 2-0 lead in the first with a two-run home run, his league-leading 18th of the season.

Jones, who is two home runs away from tying the league single-season record, went 2-for-4 after going 4-for-31 (.129) in his last eight games. Jones is still hitting .323 for the season.

“Yeah, for him, he’s definitely been slumping,” McClure said. “He got good swings off today.”

Lafayette took a 3-2 lead in the fourth on Jayson Newman’s two-run home run and Gary Lora’s solo homer.

Photo: Dylan Hale hits a two-run home run in the eighth inning to lift the Burlington Bees to a 4-3 win over Lafayette.

AVIATORS 10, BEES 6: No Stopping Lafayette As Losing Streak Grows

By John Bohnenkamp

It’s about getting stops for the Burlington Bees.

The 10-6 loss to the Lafayette Aviators in Saturday’s Prospect League game at Community Field was the fourth consecutive defeat for the Bees, who are struggling to hold down opposing offenses.

The Bees (23-27 overall, 8-13 second half) have given up an average of 11.3 runs in the skid.

“At some point, you have to hold somebody down,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “We’re giving up eight, nine runs a game.”

Bees starter Brady McLean gave up eight runs in five innings, surrendering 11 hits. The last three runs came in the fifth after the Bees had tied the game a half-inning earlier.

“At some point, you’ve got to hold somebody down if you’re going to give yourself a chance to win,” McClure said. “The game always comes back to pitching, and we’re struggling right now with that.”

Lafayette (35-14, 16-5), which has the league’s best record, shut down the Bees after that. Reliever Trevian Meza struck out nine in four innings.

“The second guy was pretty good,” McClure said. “He was bringing it up there pretty good. He was probably as good as we’ve seen this summer, right-handed anyway.”

The Bees fell 3 1/2 games back in the Great River Division with 10 games to play.

“We’ve just got to keep grinding right now,” McClure said. “A win is the next game away, if you grind right now and play hard. We’ve got to get some pitching coming up.”

HITS AT THE BOTTOM: The Bees had nine hits, with seven coming from the bottom four hitters in the lineup.

Joey Fitzgerald, Zane Zielinski and Sam Monroe each had two hits.

UP NEXT: The two teams play a 2 p.m. game on Saturday.

Photo: Burlington’s Ben Nippolt tags out Lafayette’s Oscar Ponce at third base in the fourth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

GEMS 9, BEES 2: The Division Leaders Get Another Step Ahead

By John Bohnenkamp

Time is running out for the Burlington Bees to keep chasing the Prospect League’s Great River Division second-half title.

Losing at home to one of the division leaders doesn’t help.

Friday’s 9-2 loss to the Quincy Gems at Community Field knocked the Bees 2 1/2 games behind the Gems and Clinton LumberKings in the standings.

Six of the Bees’ last 11 games are against the Gems and LumberKings, so there are opportunities to move up.

Still, the clock on the season is ticking.

“You know, if we wanted to stay in it, we needed to win tonight, and we didn’t do it,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “You’ve got to move on to the next one.”

The Bees (23-26 overall, 8-12 second half) tied the game at 2 in the second on AJ Henkle’s two-run home run. But the Gems (25-25, 12-11) got a three-run home run from Jake Skrine in the fifth, then added four runs in the seventh inning.

Chas Sagedahl (1-3) took the loss. Sagedahl had given up four earned runs in 16 2/3 innings in his last three starts, but was charged with five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings.

“He’s pitched good lately,” McClure said. “He’s had three or four outings in a row where he’s been really effective. Two pitches killed him tonight.”

ROSTER CHANGES: The Bees continue to have roster changes as the season comes to an end.

First baseman Austin Simpson left the team because of a family emergency. Reliever Reece Wissinger also left the team.

Simpson hit. .312 with four home runs and 23 runs batted in. Wissinger was 3-0 with four saves and a 1.92 earned run average. He struck out 41 in 18 2/3 innings.

“It’s part of the deal with this league,” McClure said. “It’s going to happen, especially later on (in the season). We’ve had more than I like, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Photo: AJ Henkle is greeted by Bees third-base coach Owen Oreskovich after his two-run home run. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)