THE MONDAY HIVE: A Few Weeks Of Work Helps Jones

By John Bohnenkamp

Jackson Jones wasn’t happy with his 2021 season at Young Harris College in Georgia.

Jones batted .281 with nine home runs, but with some time off before coming to play in the Prospect League with the Burlington Bees, Jones went home to work on hitting with his father, George.

The work has paid off.

Jones, coming off a 4-for-5 game in Sunday’s 13-5 win over Quincy at Community Field, is batting .357 with seven home runs and 22 runs batted in. He has hit in 11 of his last 12 games, batting .449 over that stretch.

“I had a few weeks off to work on my swing a little bit,” Jones said. “Working on that helped me get into a groove. I’m seeing the ball a lot better and I think that’s the big thing.”

Jones is second in the league in home runs with seven, leads the league with nine doubles, and is fifth in slugging percentage at .714. He has a 1.147 OPS.

“He’s just a really, really good hitter,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “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 didn’t have a place to play this summer before his coach, Stephen Waggener, told him about Burlington and the Prospect League.

“He said this was a good opportunity to play,” said Jones, who hit .209 with the Macon Bacon in the Coastal Plain League in 2018. “I was happy to jump at the chance to do it.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s always a good time getting to know new guys. Baseball teams are always like another family. When you get to know another group of guys like this, it’s kind of like having a second family.”

Jones, a Marietta, Georgia native, started slowly, with just one hit in his first 10 at-bats. Since then, he has hits in 16 of his last 18 games.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of pressure sometimes, because you want it to continue, and obviously last night that didn’t happen. But it’s a good feeling being able to help your team. When you’re hot like that, you’re helping your team. It’s a lot of fun, but there’s a lot of pressure, you feel like you have to perform.”

Jones went 0-for-4 in Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the O’Fallon Hoots at Community Field, snapping a 10-game hitting streak.

He bounced back on Sunday, with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs.

The work in May, after the end of the college season, has helped.

“Whenever I’m not at school, I go hit with my dad,” Jones said. “He helps me out a lot. Pretty much everything I know about baseball I learned from him. He’s been my coach ever since I started playing. Whenever I get the chance to work with him, I do it. He’s helped me out a lot.”

Jones’ primary position is catcher, but he has also played left field, right field, and first base for the Bees.

He smiled when he was reminded that he pitched 5 1/3 innings as a freshman at Young Harris.

“That was interesting,” Jones said.

Jones appreciates getting a chance to play in Burlington.

“The facility here is amazing,” he said. “It’s definitely one of the nicest facilities I’ve been able to play in. It was definitely an attraction to playing here.”

Jones has one season left at Young Harris.

“I really just hope I can have success here, and then have that carry over into the college season,” Jones said. “I didn’t have as much success as I wanted to this year, so I’m hoping the success can carry over.”

THE WEEK AHEAD

Tuesday: At Quincy. The Bees face the Gems on the road after Sunday’s win. Quincy has won seven of its last 10 games, and is only 1 1/2 games behind the Bees and Normal in the Great River Division standings.

Wednesday-Thursday: Cape. The Bees return home for a two-game series against the Cape Catfish. The Catfish have won seven of their last 10 games and are 2 1/2 games out in the Prairie Land Division standings.

Friday: Springfield. The Bees see the Sliders for the second time this season. Springfield is a half-game out of first place in the Prairie Land Division.

Saturday-Sunday: At Cape. The Bees close the week with a two-game series on the road with the Catfish.

Photo: Jackson Jones rounds the bases after his home run against Clinton earlier this season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 13, GEMS 5: Noisy Eighth Inning Caps Offensive Outburst

By John Bohnenkamp

There was some disappointment at Community Field when Marcos Sanchez’s fly ball fell into the glove of Quincy right fielder Nick Iannantone just short of the wall.

Three home runs in a noisy eighth inning led to some high expectations.

The solo homers from Jackson Jones, Kevin Santiago and Mason Land capped the Burlington Bees’ 13-5 win over the Gems on Sunday at Community Field.

The Bees had 16 hits less than 24 hours after being shut out in a loss to O’Fallon.

“We took a day off, I guess,” Bees manager Gary McClure said, laughing. “But we really swung (the bats) tonight.”

All but one of the Bees’ runs came in their final four offensive innings, nine after they fell behind 5-4 heading into the bottom of the sixth.

Sanchez’s solo home run in the sixth tied the game, then the Bees added three runs on Reid Halfacre’s RBI double and Jones’ two-run single.

Nathan Ebersole and Ben Nippolt drove in runs in the seventh, then the home-run eruption followed in the eighth.

“When you add runs, you usually win,” McClure said.

Garrett Langrell (4-0) was the winning pitcher. Jake Stipp (1-2) took the loss.

JONES REBOUNDS: Jones, who had a 10-game hitting streak snapped on Saturday, was 4-for-5 with five RBIs. He had two doubles to go with his home run, and boosted his batting average to .357.

PITCHING: Bees starter Garrett Moltzan allowed five hits over 5 1/3 innings. Langrell, who was charged with a run in the sixth, pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings. Reece Wissinger pitched a scoreless ninth.

“We got good starting pitching and then the relievers closed the door,” McClure said.

DEFENSIVE GEMS: Bees center fielder Lincoln Riley made a diving catch on Jayce Maag’s short fly ball to lead off the seventh inning.

“I thought Lincoln Riley made a great catch,” McClure said. “I wasn’t sure he was going to get there.”

Photo: Jackson Jones (left), Kevin Santiago (center) and Mason Land hit home runs in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

HOOTS 3, BEES 0: Bases Are Busy, But The Line Doesn’t Move

By John Bohnenkamp

Getting runners on base wasn’t a problem for the Burlington Bees.

Getting them to advance was a different thing.

The Bees had baserunners in seven innings, but lost 3-0 to the O’Fallon Hoots in Saturday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

Burlington (10-10) stayed in a first-place tie with the Normal CornBelters in the Great River Division.

The Bees had six hits and 12 baserunners, but only one baserunner got to third base against O’Fallon pitchers Tyler Denu and Anthony Klein.

“We struggled to get a guy to second, to be honest,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “We just couldn’t string anything together.”

Denu (1-0) threw 80 pitches in seven innings, allowing six hits while striking out three. Anthony Klein hit three batters in the last two innings, but the Bees couldn’t come up with any hits.

“(Denu) threw a great game,” McClure said. “He minimized his pitch count, threw really well. He obviously kept our guys off-balance all night.”

All of the Bees’ hits were singles. Austin Simpson had two hits.

The Hoots got two runs in the first off Bees starter Jalen Evans (1-1) on singles by Elias Stevens and JT Mabry. Jamie Young scored on a fielder’s choice in the fourth for O’Fallon’s other run.

“If you look through the whole game, they didn’t hit one ball on the barrel,” McClure said. “Broken bats, or off the end of the bats. Bloopers. But that’s baseball.”

RELIEF: Burlington’s Simon Gregersen pitched four scoreless innings in relief. He threw 47 pitches, 33 for strikes.

STREAKS: Burlington’s Jackson Jones had his 10-game hitting streak snapped. Jones was hitting .450 in the streak. … Bees shortstop Mason Land extended his hitting streak to four games. 

FAMILY TREE: Mabry is the son of former Major League Baseball player John Mabry.

DEFENSIVE GEMS: Gregersen got some help in the seventh inning. Clayton Stephens led off with a single, then Luke Vinson hit a line drive that Land lunged to catch. Land got up and threw out Vinson had first to complete the double play. Nick Hofmann then doubled, but Gregersen picked him off to end the inning.

UP NEXT: The Bees play host to the Quincy Gems on Sunday in a 2 p.m. game.

Photo: Burlington Bees first baseman Austin Simpson singles in the fourth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: Simpson Back On A Familiar Field

By John Bohnenkamp

Austin Simpson lost his 2020 season at Southeastern Community College to the COVID-19 pandemic, and missed most of the second half of this season after suffering a facial injury.

His work over the summer, though, has made a difference.

Simpson leads the Burlington Bees in hitting at .392, ranking 11th among Prospect League hitters. He has 20 hits in 14 games, tied for seventh in the league.

“I’ve just tried to stay consistent, doing what I do,” said the first baseman, who has two home runs and 13 runs batted in while posting a 1.044 OPS.

Simpson hit .317 with SCC in 34 games this season, hitting seven home runs and driving in 39 runs. But Simpson suffered a facial injury when he was hit by a ground ball during batting practice before an April 14 doubleheader at Marshalltown. The injury required surgery and kept him out for the rest of the junior college season.

“Oh, I hated it,” he said. “Couldn’t stand watching and not being out there.”

Simpson’s hitting wasn’t affected by the time off. He had six hits in his first 13 at-bats to open the season, and has had a six-game hitting streak this season in which he hit .455. That streak was snapped with an 0-for-3 game in Saturday’s loss at O’Fallon, but in Sunday’s 12-2 win over Clinton at Community Field Simpson reached base in all five plate appearances, going 3-for-3.

“Austin is just a very, very good hitter,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “He hits for average, and he hits for power, and not a lot of guys do that. He gets on base, people have to be careful how to pitch him. He’s a great hitter.”

This is Simpson’s second season in a summer wood-bat league — he played last summer in the Kernels Collegiate League in Normal, Ill. That season was important, since Simpson’s first year at SCC was canceled because of the pandemic.

“It was hard,” Simpson said of missing the spring season. “You work for something the whole school year, and then to see it taken away was difficult.”

Simpson grew up in nearby Fairfield, graduating in 2019 from Fairfield High School. He grew up watching the Bees when the team played in the Class A Midwest League.

“It’s close to home. And I grew up watching the team,” he said. “So it’s cool to be a part of it.”

Playing in the Prospect League means long bus trips. The Bees got back from O’Fallon early Sunday morning, but were back in the batting cages for work at noon.

“It’s what we do,” Simpson said. “You can’t change it or do anything about it. It makes you grow up a little bit.”

Simpson will play at Quincy University next season.

“They’ve got a really good program, and they develop players,” he said. “When I went there and took my visit, it felt like I was home.”

Simpson knows what this season can mean to him.

“I just want to be better than I was when I got here,” he said. “Be an elite player.”

BY THE NUMBERS

• Jackson Jones is on a seven-game hitting streak. Jones, who is hitting .333 with a 1.094 OPS, is batting .429 during the streak. He has four home runs in the last six games. Jones is tied for third in the league with five home runs, and is tied for third with six doubles.

• Kevin Santiago has a six-game hitting streak. He is batting .360 in the streak with eight runs batted in. Santiago is tied for four in the league with 19 RBIs.

• Pitcher McLain Harris is third in the league with 24 strikeouts.

• Reliever Garrett Langrell is tied for league lead in wins with three.

THE WEEK AHEAD

• At Lafayette, Wednesday and Thursday. The Bees go into the Eastern Conference for two games against the Aviators, who lead the Wabash River Division at 12-4. Lafayette’s Tanner Craig is second in the league in hitting at .462, and leads the league with six home runs. Pitcher Chase Stratton is seventh in the league with a 1.88 ERA.

• At Normal, Friday (doubleheader). The Cornbelters (7-8) are 1 1/2 games behind the Bees in the Great River Division. Catcher Eddie Niemann is hitting .389 for the Cornbelters.

• O’Fallon, Saturday. The Bees come home for a game against the Hoots (9-5). Outfielder Brett Johnson leads the Hoots with a .379 average.

• Quincy, Sunday. It’s the first appearance of the Gems (5-10) at Community Field. 

Photo: Burlington Bees first baseman Austin Simpson catches a foul popup in Sunday’s game against Clinton at Community Field. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 12, LUMBERKINGS 2: Evans, Relievers Combine For One-Hitter

By John Bohnenkamp

Jalen Evans hadn’t pitched in more than a month.

It didn’t seem like much of a problem.

Evans and relievers K.J. Baker and Jackson Gray combined on a one-hitter as the Burlington Bees won, 12-2, over the Clinton LumberKings in Sunday’s game at Community Field.

The Bees (9-7) took a one-game lead in the Prospect League’s West-Great River Division after a win in a game decided by the 10-run rule in the eighth inning.

Evans threw 49 innings in 15 appearances at Texas Wesleyan University this season, with a 4-1 record and a 3.12 earned run average.

Getting some time off helped.

“Just felt good,” said Evans, who joined the team on Friday. “Just tried to get a feel today.”

Evans struck out the first two hitters he faced and faced the minimum in the first three innings.

“He’s got a great arm,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “He hadn’t pitched in a few weeks, but he commanded it pretty good.”

“Everything felt good,” Evans said. “Fastball felt good. Could work on the command a little bit more. But we’ll get there. Knowing what’s wrong, that’s the first thing. Then we can make adjustments.”

Evans’ only trouble came in the fourth, when he surrendered a two-run home run to Luke Ira. He hit Kyle Lehmann with a pitch with two outs and then walked Dominic Milano, but struck out Jay Beshears to end the inning.

Evans gave up a leadoff walk to Adam Weed in the fifth inning, but retired the next three hitters to end his day.

“He threw all of his pitches for strikes,” McClure said. “He did a good job of getting ahead of all of the hitters, especially the first four innings. It was big for us for him to get through the fifth.”

Baker walked one and struck out three in two innings. Jackson Gray did not allow a hit in his lone inning of work, striking out one.

“A lot of these guys have a lot of potential,” Evans said of the Bees’ pitching staff. “They just need the reps. We’ll get that this summer. It’s only going to get better.”

The Bees built a 7-0 lead through the first two innings, sending nine batters to the plate in both innings. They scored four runs in the seventh inning without a hit, taking advantage of six walks and a hit batter. Jackson Jones’ home run to lead off the eighth inning ended the game.

Bees first baseman Austin Simpson reached base in all five plate appearances, going 3-for-3. Kevin Santiago had a home run and drove in four runs.

The Bees had 13 hits.

“This offense,” Evans said, “is really dynamic.”

Photo: Burlington Bees pitcher Jalen Evans and two relievers combined on a one-hitter in Sunday’s win over the Clinton LumberKings. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

LUMBERKINGS 10, BEES 8: ‘Free Runs’ Prove Costly In Loss

By John Bohnenkamp

Gary McClure thought his team gave one away on Thursday night.

The Burlington Bees’ 10-8 loss to the Clinton LumberKings in a Prospect League game at Community Field bothered their manager, because of what his team didn’t do.

Bees pitchers allowed seven walks and the defense committed two errors that led to three unearned runs.

A five-run sixth inning by the LumberKings (8-5) gave them control, and then two runs in the top of the ninth killed any momentum the Bees had after a two-run seventh inning closed their deficit to 8-7.

The walks and errors were just too consuming.

“When that happens, you put yourself in a situation to fail, and that’s what happened,” McClure said. “Both innings that they had multiple runs, we didn’t make a play we should have made. We’re out of both those innings with maybe one run. The bottom line is to win at baseball at a high level, you’ve got to pitch and you’ve got to play defense. When you do that, you have a chance to win every night.”

The game was tied at 5 in the sixth when Bees reliever Grady Gorgen thought he had struck out Luke Ira with the bases loaded to end the inning. Gorgen and some of the Bees started to walk off the field, but plate umpire Josh Barnes had called the pitch a ball. Ira, hitting .440 for the season, then pounded a double into right field that cleared the bases.

The Bees got to within 8-7 in the seventh on Marcos Sanchez’s ground-rule double that bounced over the center-field wall. Had the ball stayed in the ballpark. Zane Zielinski likely would have scored to tie the game. Instead, Zielinski had to go back to third base. Clinton reliever Casey Perrenoud got Brady Jurgella on a popout and Reid Halfacre on a grounder to Ira at shortstop to end the inning.

Clinton’s Max Holy walked to open the ninth inning and moved to second on a grounder to shortstop by Justin Conant. Pinch-hitter Jay Beshears hit a grounder back to Bees pitcher Jackson Gray, who threw to third base to try to get Holy, who was attempting to advance on the play. But Gray’s throw got past third baseman Mason Land, and Holy was able to score. An RBI double by Skyler Luna with two outs put Clinton up 10-8.

“I don’t know how many earned runs they had tonight,” McClure said. “They certainly didn’t have as many as were on the board. You’ve got to play defense — it’s something you can control and do every day, doing routine things.”

Jackson Jones hit a long home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but that would be the last of Bees’ 10 hits.

Clinton starter Matt Scherrman (3-0) was the winning pitcher. Gorgen (0-1) took the loss.

“Obviously if you don’t pitch and you give up free baserunners, you’re going to get beat,” McClure said. “You just can’t give free runs away. There’s no time clock. You’ve got to get them out. You’re just beating yourself when you do that.”

STREAKS: Zielinski extended his hitting streak to nine games. Sanchez and designated hitter Marcos Sanchez extended their hitting streaks to eight games. Bees first baseman Austin Simpson, who hit a 420-foot two-run home run in the fourth inning, has hit in four consecutive games.

UP NEXT: The Bees play at Normal on Friday and at O’Fallon on Saturday before returning home for a 2 p.m. game Sunday against Clinton.

Photo: Clinton’s Skyler Luna is called out at third base after trying to stretch a ninth-inning hit into a triple in Thursday’s game against the Burlington Bees. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 7, RIVER DRAGONS 6: It’s ‘Wild’ In The 12th In Walk-Off Win

By John Bohnenkamp

Gary McClure knew three things had to happen as Ben Nippolt’s fly ball was dying in short right field.

The game was tied in the 12th inning, the bases were loaded, and there was one out.

So McClure, the Burlington Bees manager who was coaching third base, thought baserunner Chase Honeycutt, standing to his left, had to try to score.

“There was a doubt,” McClure said. “But I figured everything was on the line, everything was wild right now. I make them catch it, I make them throw it, and catch it again. That’s my thought.”

Alton River Dragons right fielder Blake Burris made the catch. He made what looked to be a perfect throw.

Catcher Bryce Zupan, though, didn’t catch the throw, and Honeycutt stepped over Zupan’s failed glove and touched home plate to give the Bees a 7-6 win on Tuesday night at Community Field.

“If he gets thrown out, I’m the goat,” McClure said. “Instead, we win the ballgame, which is all that matters.”

The Bees (7-4) snapped out of a two-game funk and are a 1/2-game behind the Normal Cornbelters in the Prospect League’s West-Great River Division. 

Honeycutt knew what McClure wanted.

“He said, ‘Tag up and go.’ I was ready. I said, ‘I’m going,’” Honeycutt said. “When I saw it come in, I thought I’ve either got to run him over, or make a play. And then he just dropped it and missed it.”

“I thought he was going to be out by a mile,” McClure said. “He shouldn’t have went, there’s no doubt. But I wanted them to make the play. Sometimes when everything is wild as they were at that point, things work out.”

A baserunning decision by Honeycutt early in the inning got things going. He was hit by a pitch from Geoff Withers (0-1) with one out, and when Marcos Sanchez singled to center field, Honeycutt raced to third, beating the throw from Harry Padden.

“When I was at first, I was thinking that if anything gets through the infield, I’m going,” Honeycutt said. “The grass is thick out there, and we’re in the 12th inning and they were tired. So I made them throw it, and luckily I got there in time.”

Sanchez moved to second on defensive indifference with Nathan Ebersole at the plate. Ebersole was then intentionally walked, bringing Nippolt up for the game-winning sacrifice fly. 

The Bees trailed 5-0 after the first two innings, and 6-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. They scored four runs with two outs in the eighth, capped by Jackson Jones’ two-run home run, then tied the game in the ninth when Nippolt scored on a fielder’s choice.

“That’s how this team is,” Honeycutt said. “No matter what inning, we’ll put up runs.”

Bees starting pitcher Garrett Moltzan lasted just 1 2/3 innings, but relievers Jackson Gray, Tom King and Garrett Langrell (2-0) held the River Dragons to just one run the rest of the game.

King pitched five scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, while Langrell allowed one hit and struck out two in the last three innings.

“To come in and get the job we got relief-wise, that’s outstanding,” McClure said. “Take your hats off to those guys. Gray, Langrell and King, they all did a great job.”

Photo: Chase Honeycutt (12) scores the winning run after Alton catcher Bryce Zupan dropped the throw in the 12th inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: League Rules Keep Pitch Counts In Mind

By John Bohnenkamp

Pitch counts have always been important for past Burlington Bees teams, but those were determined by the Major League Baseball parent club when the Bees were a Class A Midwest League affiliate.

Counts are still important now that the Bees are in the Prospect League for college players.

The league’s rules dictate how much a pitcher can be used, depending on the number of pitches he throws. And it can be costly if a team exceeds that usage.

The Bees have 17 pitchers on their roster, including outfielder Marcos Sanchez, who has pitched in two games this season. All but two of the pitchers have thrown in a game this season. Six pitchers have at least one start.

“I tried to get six or seven starters, (and) seven or eight guys who would work out of the bullpen,” said Bees manager Gary McClure. “A lot of these guys haven’t pitched a ton, but they’ve got really good arms. Just try to develop them into something.”

Bees starting pitchers have averaged 4 2/3 innings per start. Four starts have gone between 5-7 innings.

But innings don’t matter. It’s all about the pitch counts.

The league rules state:

• Any pitcher who throws two consecutive games must rest the next day 

• Any pitcher who throws 30 pitches or less can pitch the next day 

• Any pitcher who throws 31-45 pitches must rest for one day 

• Any pitcher who throws 46-60 pitches must rest for two days 

• Any pitcher who throws 61-80 pitches must rest for three days. 

• Any pitcher who throws 81-90 pitches must rest for four days 

• Pitchers cannot face a new batter after they have thrown 95 pitches. Should the pitch count be reached while a pitcher is facing a batter, he can complete the at-bat, but must be removed after it is completed.

And it can be financially costly if a manager doesn’t follow those rules. The first offense will result in a $250 team fine and an immediate one-game suspension for the violating team’s manager. The second offense would be a $500 fine and a 3-game suspension of the team’s manager. The third offense would be a $1,000 fine and a 6-game suspension of the team’s manager.

Pitch counts are kept by the official scorer. Bees pitching coach Scott Barnum also keeps track of the pitch counts in the dugout.

Sometimes the pitch counts determine in-game strategy as well.

“We have a chart with everybody’s name on it, when they pitched last,” McClure said. “We keep a pitch count with each guy, make a decision if we want to get them out and have them the next day or not. Because if they pitch over 30, they can’t pitch the next day.”

Four pitchers — Jacob Greenan, Garrett Langrell, Grady Gorgen and Greg Ryun — have pitched in four games this season. Langrell has had the most work with 7 2/3 innings. Gorgen has thrown five innings, Ryan has thrown 4 2/3 innings, and Greenan has thrown 3 2/3.

Most of the pitchers have had a full college season already, so they are stretched out for longer work if needed.

“They’ve got innings under their belt,” McClure said. “Or they’re young guys who haven’t pitched a ton, but they’ve got a really good arm, and needed innings. That’s kind of the combo we used to go get guys.”

Photo: Burlington Bees pitcher Jacob Greenan throws in relief during Friday’s game against the O’Fallon Hoots. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 14, HOOTS 6: Relentless Offense Helps Extend Winning Streak

By John Bohnenkamp

It is a relentless offense for the Burlington Bees to open the season.

Friday’s 14-6 win over the O’Fallon Hoots at Community Field was the sixth consecutive for the Bees (6-2), who maintained their one-game lead in the Prospect League’s West-Great River Division.

Burlington had 17 hits, but only two were for extra bases.

“Everyone took quality at-bats, did really well,” said center fielder Lincoln Riley, who had four hits and drove in three runs at the top of the lineup, boosting his season average to .400. “Just kind of carried it throughout the game.”

Every Bee had at least one hit, and Burlington ended the night with seven players in its lineup hitting .300 or better, with three hitters at .400 or better. The Bees are hitting .318 as a team.

“We’re a strong offense,” Riley said. “We’re dangerous, we’re really good. It’s early, too — we’ve got a lot of games left and I’m excited to see what we can do.”

The Bees trailed 5-3 before scoring 11 runs in their final four innings on offense.

“We kept getting baserunners, putting pressure on their defense,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “We continually had baserunners and put pressure on. Our guys have done a great job of just putting pressure on throughout the game, and adding runs when we do get in the lead.”

“No one’s nervous when we’re down,” Riley said. “It shows what kind of players we are, how hard we can fight back. It doesn’t matter if we’re down one run or 10 runs, we’re going to play to the ninth inning.”

Riley had an RBI single in the second inning, a single in the sixth, a two-run double in the seventh, and a single in the eighth.

“That was big,” McClure said of Riley, who is going to Eastern Illinois University next season after playing at Southeastern Community College. “He got on base, drove in runs, he just had really good at-bats tonight. He made an adjustment from the other night (he was 0-for-3 in Wednesday’s win at Alton), he didn’t have a great night. But he made adjustments and hit the ball well tonight.”

Austin Simpson had three hits and scored three runs for the Bees. Reid Halfacre, at the bottom of the Bees’ lineup, scored four times.

Tom King (1-0) was the winning pitcher in relief, throwing two scoreless innings. Brady Walker (0-2) was the losing pitcher.

NOTES: Bees third baseman Mason Land, who is heading to Auburn next season, drove in three runs, all on sacrifice flies to right field in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Land went 1-for-3. “He didn’t have many at-bats to count tonight but he had some RBIs,” McClure quipped. … Bees reliever Jacob Greenan, who had given up six runs in two appearances, pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, striking out one. “It was good to see him throw strikes the way he did,” McClure said of Greenan, who plays at Western Illinois University. “He’s got an electric arm.”

UP NEXT: Burlington has a two-game weekend road trip, playing at Springfield (4-3) on Saturday and Normal (4-3) on Sunday.

Photo: Burlington Bees center fielder Lincoln Riley drives in a run in the second inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 7, RIVER DRAGONS 3: One Inning Meant Plenty For Gray

By John Bohnenkamp

It was an inning Jackson Gray knew his grandfather would have appreciated.

Gray, a left-handed pitcher who had just joined his hometown Burlington Bees, pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the 7-3 win over the Alton River Dragons on Thursday night at Community Field.

Gray, who graduated from Notre Dame High School and played at nearby Carl Sandburg College and Western Illinois University, heard the cheers from family members as he walked off the field after facing four batters in the inning.

It was an emotional moment for a player who grew up coming to games at the ballpark with his father, Tom, and his grandfather, Ed Larson, who served as the Burlington Baseball Association’s president and then later served as Midwest League president for one year and vice-president for 30. Larson died during the 2019 season, in what turned out to be Bees’ last season in the Class A minor league.

“It was a lot of fun, a lot of memories because of my grandpa,” Gray said. “I had a lot of family here — I could hear them screaming, cheering. I know it meant a lot to them. It meant so much to me. I can’t explain the emotions going through my mind on that first pitch.”

Gray was a senior at Western Illinois this season, going 1-1 with an 8.25 earned run average in 11 games.

“It’s going to be my last year in baseball, so it’s good to end it in a Burlington Bees uniform,” he said.

Gray smiled as he recalled what it was like when he saw that uniform for the first time.

“Oh, beautiful,” he said. “Snazzy.”

Gray struck out Clayton Dean to open the inning, then hit Adam Stilts with a pitch. Gray then picked off Stilts at first before giving up a double to Bryce Zupan that left fielder Marcos Sanchez lost in the night sky. He then got Gabe Briones on a grounder that second baseman Zane Zielinski snagged with a dive, throwing out Briones by a step at first.

“He threw the ball extremely well,” Bees manager Gary McClure said of Gray. “I liked what I saw. He’s going to help our club a lot from the left side.”

Gray signed with the team on Wednesday.

“(McClure) wanted me to come play,” Gray said. “I was like, ‘That’s perfect. A perfect fit.’”

“It’s a great thing,” McClure said. “The more kids we can get from Iowa, and locally, it just attracts more attention to our ball club. That’s something, as long as I’m coaching here, we’re going to continue to do.”

The Bees (5-2) won their fifth consecutive game to take sole possession of first place in the Prospect League’s West-Great River Division.

Burlington got seven innings from starter McLain Harris (2-0), who gave up six hits and struck out eight. Reece Wissinger, another Burlington native, struck out the side in the ninth for his second save.

“(Harris) did well tonight,” McClure said. “They dropped a few in, blooped a few in, got some runs early. But he really got better, I thought, as the game went along. He got sharper and sharper, and did a great job. (Wissinger is) a great guy to have at the end of the ball game.”

The Bees rallied from a 3-0 deficit with a four-run fourth inning. Jackson Jones and Zielinski had run-scoring doubles, and Reid Halfacre and Sanchez drove in runs with singles.

Mason Land had a solo home run as the Bees got two in the fifth. Burlington closed the scoring in the eighth on Halfacre’s RBI single.

Gray threw 13 pitches in the eighth, every one carrying the emotion of the moment.

“I was able to go out there and compete,” he said. “Being able to compete makes it a lot more fun.”

Photo: Burlington Bees left-hander Jackson Gray pitches in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game against the Alton River Dragons at Community Field. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)