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)

THE MONDAY HIVE: Final Weeks Of The Season Bring Roster Changes

By John Bohnenkamp

Sam Monroe looked like a veteran at the bottom of the Burlington Bees’ lineup on Sunday.

Monroe had two singles, a walk, and drove in two runs in the 8-4 loss to the Quincy Gems.

His four plate appearances — Monroe grounded out to end the second inning — were his first in the Prospect League this season.

“Today was the first time I saw him swing,” Bees assistant coach Owen Oreskovich said. “He seems like a great kid. Can run, hit. Hit well for us today.”

It’s late in the season — the Bees have just 15 games to go on the regular-season schedule — but the roster has gone through plenty of changes in the last couple of weeks.

The Bees have 26 players on the roster. Eight players have left the team for various reasons, but it’s part of a natural evolution in the summer league for college players who are coming off a lengthy season at their schools. Quincy, for example, has lost four players.

“Toward the end of the summer, it gets tough,” Oreskovich said. “Kids have playing since the fall, it’s a long time.”

Monroe, who was a freshman this season at Southeastern Community College in West Burlington, was added to the roster over the weekend. Outfielder A.J. Henkle and infielder Joey Fitzgerald were added last week.

“They’re good players, they know how to play,” Bees manager Gary McClure said about Henkle and Fitzgerald earlier in the week. “They bring some tools with them.”

Finding new players means relying on connections. McClure was a long-time college head coach. Oreskovich is an assistant coach at McHenry County (Ill.) College. Pitching coach Scott Barnum is an assistant coach at Howard College.

“It’s all we can rely on right now,” Oreskovich said of the networks the three have within college baseball. “It’s just guys that me, Scott and Mac know.”

Henkle, for example, played at McHenry County College and was coached by Oreskovich.

“I coached A.J., and he played baseball with my brother growing up, at the same community college I went to,” Oreskovich said.

“It’s hard to find good players,” McClure said. “But we had a couple there Coach O knew about it. He had coached one of them. The other one was his best buddy, so he brought him along with him.”

Monroe was a freshman last season at Southeastern Community College and was teammates with four other SCC players on the Bees’ roster.

It hasn’t been a problem inside the clubhouse, Oreskovich said.

“All of the new guys we’ve brought in have been good with the other guys we’ve had here,” Oreskovich said. “That’s great for them, and everyone else.

“It’s a little different. It’s tough to get guys in the right situations sometimes. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

THE WEEK AHEAD

• Tuesday, at Quincy. If the Bees want to get back in the playoff chase, this would be a good place to start. The Gems lead the Great River Division in the second-half standings, with the Bees three games back.

• Wednesday, vs. Illinois Valley. Thursday, at Illinois Valley. The Bees have a home-and-home series with the Pistol Shrimp, who are 5-9 in the second half.

• Friday, vs. Quincy. Saturday-Sunday, vs. Lafayette. A weekend homestand for the Bees, who get the Gems first before playing two games against the Aviators, who are 14-2 in the second half.

Photo: Sam Monroe tracks down a fly ball in Sunday’s game. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

GEMS 8, BEES 4: Errors Lead To A Big Hill Of Runs

By John Bohnenkamp

It took 22 minutes for the rest of the day to be ruined for the Burlington Bees.

The Bees committed three errors in the top of the first inning, leading to five runs for the Quincy Gems in their 8-4 win in Sunday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

The Bees (22-23 overall, 7-9 second half) fell three games behind the Gems (23-20, 10-6) in the Great River Division standings.

The rough first inning loomed over the rest of the game.

“We made errors, and they had some hits,” said Bees assistant coach Owen Oreskovich. “You make errors in the first inning, give up five runs, it’s hard to come back. You just have to chip away and we didn’t do that.”

Ryan Hutchinson opened the inning with a double off Garrett Moltzan. Tyler Clark-Chiapparelli followed with a hard ground ball that first baseman Austin Simpson fielded with a dive, but Moltzan didn’t cover first base until it was too late, putting runners at first and third.

The inning just got worse. Two errors by second baseman Zane Zielinski and an error by left fielder Sam Monroe added to the misery, as the Gems sent 10 batters to the plate. Only two of the runs were earned.

The outburst was made worse by the Bees’ inability lately to score runs. Monroe’s RBI single drove in Joey Fitzgerald to break a 20-inning scoreless spell.

“Twenty scoreless? I didn’t know that,” Oreskovich said. “We’ve had some tough breaks in the last few games. We’ve left a lot of guys on base. But that’s baseball, that happens.”

The Bees left 13 runners on in this game.

Time is running out on the season — 15 games remain on the schedule.

“We’re going to need hits with runners on,” Oreskovich said. “Get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in. We’ll need timely hitting, which we haven’t gotten recently. And we’re going to need good pitching.”

THE NEW GUY: Monroe, who plays at Southeastern Community College, joined the team before the game and was 2-for-3 with two runs batted in. He reached base three times — he had a walk in the seventh inning.

BULLPEN HELP: Moltzan lasted just one-third of an inning, but the Bees got 5 2/3 strong innings from reliever Brady McLean, who allowed three hits and struck out two while giving up just one run.

“He did a great job,” Oreskovich said. “He’s done a great job for us lately. He’s a great pitcher, such a competitor.”

Greg Ryun allowed two runs in 1 1/3 innings. K.J. Baker closed the game with 1 2/3 shutout innings.

“Our bullpen was phenomenal,” Oreskovich said.

BIG DIVE: Bees center fielder Lincoln Riley had the play of the day with a diving catch to end the fourth inning.

Quincy had a runner on with two outs when Alex Watermann hit a deep fly ball into left-center field that Riley raced down, diving at the last second to make the catch.

UP NEXT: The Bees have Monday off before playing at Quincy on Tuesday.

Photo: Bees center fielder Lincoln Riley lays out to make the catch to end the fourth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 7, PISTOL SHRIMP 5: Zielinski’s Homer Caps Comeback

By John Bohnenkamp

Zane Zielinski’s three-run home run went to one of the deepest parts of Community Field.

“Maybe wind-aided a little bit, but I’ll take it,” the Burlington Bees second baseman said, laughing.

OK, maybe. But it still got out over the left-center field fence in the sixth inning, lifting the Bees to a 7-5 win over the Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp in Wednesday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

The Bees (20-20 overall, 5-6 second half) are 1 1/2 games out of first place in the Great River Division heading into a key six-game stretch against divisional rivals that begins with Thursday’s game at Clinton.

The Bees, who were down 4-1 after three innings, trailed 4-3 in the sixth and had runners on second and third with two outs when Zielinski homered off reliever Ryan Palmblad.

“He threw one curveball and I fouled it off, so I knew I could see that,” Zielinski said. “I was sitting on fastball, just waiting to adjust on the curve. Saw it coming in, so I just swung on it.”

It was the second home run of the season for Zielinski, who had struck out in his first two at-bats.

“It meant a lot,” Zielinski said. “I wasn’t doing a lot at the plate to start the day, so it felt good to help the team to take the lead. I’m just trying to hit a ball hard, drive someone in, maybe move someone over.”

“I was glad to see that for Z,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “He got into one, a big home run.”

Zielinski had just one hit in his previous 10 at-bats before the home run.

“It was a big hit for team, a big hit for the him,” McClure said. “He’s been struggling a little bit.”

Jack Gray (2-1) was the winning pitcher in relief. Reece Wissinger got his third save.

Tyler Conkilin (0-1) was the losing pitcher.

BACK IN RHYTHM: The Bees lost two dates against the Normal CornBelters because of rain last weekend, then had Monday off before Tuesday’s 7-5 loss at Illinois Valley.

That time off set the Bees back a little bit, McClure said.

“That hurt us,” McClure said. “ A couple of days off, OK. But when you’re playing every day, and all of the sudden you have three days long days, where these guys don’t have anything to do. It gets you out of your rhythm a little bit, for sure.”

The Bees will play a 5 p.m. doubleheader at home against the CornBelters on Friday, then have another doubleheader scheduled for July 31 at Community Field.

HARRIS’ NIGHT: Bees starting pitcher McLain Harris struck out seven over five innings, allowing four runs, although only two were earned.

“Harris threw the ball really well,” McClure said. “We gave up at least two unearned runs, and maybe three. He pitched well.”

It was Harris’ first outing since an 11-7 loss to O’Fallon on July 4, when he was charged with only two earned runs of the six he gave up in a game in which the Bees committed six errors.

A throwing error cost him two unearned runs in the third inning of this game.

“We’ve kicked the ball around when he’s been on the mound here lately,” McClure said. “He did what he’s done all year. He keeps you in the ballgame. He gives you a chance to win every time he’s out there.”

Photo: Zane Zielinski hits his three-run home run in the sixth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)