BEES 11, LUCKY HORSESHOES 4: Quick Six Sets The Tone

By John Bohnenkamp

A battle for first place awaits the Burlington Bees.

The Bees maintained their half-game lead in the Prospect League’s Great River Division with an 11-4 win over the Springfield Lucky Horseshoes on Wednesday at Community Field.

Burlington (18-25 overall, 7-5 second half) takes a half-game lead into Thursday’s game at Normal (21-22, 7-6). The Bees and CornBelters play four games against each other — two in Normal, two in Burlington — in the final 2 1/2 weeks of the regular season, so this is a race that can go on for a while.

But for Bees manager Owen Oreskovich, it’s about his team doing what it’s been doing during its current four-game winning streak.

“They know. I don’t really talk about that with them, or need them worrying about that,” he said. “It shouldn’t really be a worry. I don’t want them going into that. I want them playing baseball, that’s what they came here to do, so it’s what I want them to do. Go out there and enjoy it.”

There is a confidence with the Bees right now.

“Especially if we, like, get down in a game,” Oreskovich said. “It’s not like it was early in the season, where it was, ‘Here we go again.’ Now it’s, ‘We’re going to get a hit, take a lead here.’”

There was no need to rally in this game. The Bees scored three runs in each of the first two innings, then added five more in the fourth in an inning in which they had just one hit.

Burlington had just six hits in the game, taking advantage of 11 walks by the Lucky Horseshoes (18-26, 6-6).

“We weren’t chasing pitches, and getting to pitches to hit when we did have a chance,” Oreskovich said.

The lead was good enough for Bees starter Garrett Moltzan (2-3), who allowed three runs in five innings.

“It made it a lot easier,” Oreskovich said of the fast start. “It allows G-Mo to go out there and relax, the position players go out there and relax.”

Marcos Sanchez had three hits and drove in two runs for the Bees. Nolan Elmore also drove in two runs.

ON DECK: Paolo Zavala (0-5, 9.59 ERA) starts for the Bees in Thursday’s game.

NOTES: Bees right fielder A.J. Henkle is hitting .429 over his last five games. Henkle was 1-for-3 on Wednesday. … Center fielder Lincoln Riley reached base four times in the first four innings. 

Photo: Bees left fielder Sam Monroe makes a running catch to end the first inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 9, LUMBERKINGS 8: Henkle’s Homer Starts Rally

By John Bohnenkamp

A.J. Henkle’s two-run home run helped wake up the Burlington Bees.

The home run started a five-run sixth inning, and the Bees held on for a 9-8 win over the Clinton LumberKings in Tuesday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

The win puts the Bees (17-25 overall, 6-5 second half) all alone in first place in the Great River Division and extended their winning streak to three games.

The Bees had been held to three hits over the first five innings and trailed 6-2 when Henkle’s one-out home run drifted over the left-field wall.

“I mean, Henkle’s home run kind of really gets you going there,” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said. “Then you make it 6-4, and guys look up at the scoreboard and they’re, ‘OK, we’re right there.’ And you’re not chasing (a four-run deficit).

“Henkle had a big swing and that got us going there.”

The Bees got all of the rest of their runs in the inning on two-out hits. Lincoln Riley’s single scored Ben Tallman. Sam Monroe’s single scored Tucker Cole. Then Kevin Santiago’s single scored Riley, and the Bees led 7-6.

“Hunting fastballs, is what I would say,” Oreskovich said when asked to what kept the inning going. “Our guys were hunting fastballs, they got good pitches to hit, they were on time getting the barrel to it and hitting it hard. That’s all I ask these guys to do every day, and it was going our way.”

Ben Tallman is congratulated by Bees manager Owen Oreskovich after his seventh-inning double. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

The Bees got two more runs in the seventh. Tallman’s triple to deep center field scored Ryan Grace, then Tallman scored on Dawson Estep’s single.

Burlington would need all of those runs in the ninth. Clinton (19-24, 4-8) scored two runs on bases-loaded walks, but Kyle Maurer got Matt Scherrman to ground into a force play to end the game.

“I always tell these guys we want to add on when we get a lead,” Oreskovich said. “Getting two more to make it 9-6. Wish we could have added another there in the bottom of the eighth (when Santiago reached base on a one-out error). Getting those two, obviously, helped a lot.”

Hamilkar Medina (1-0) was the winning pitcher. Maurer recorded his fifth save. Logan Schmitt (0-1) was the losing pitcher.

ON DECK: The Bees play host to the Springfield Lucky Horseshoes in a 6:30 p.m. game Wednesday.

Top photo: A.J. Henkle follows through on his two-run home run in the sixth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 6, HOOTS 5: Simple Batting Advice Helps Elmore

By John Bohnenkamp

A simple tweak of his swing has made the difference for Burlington Bees catcher Nolan Elmore.

Elmore had three hits and drove in three runs, including the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, as the Bees rallied past the O’Fallon Hoots 6-5 in Monday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

The Bees (16-25 overall, 5-5 second half) remained in a tie with the Normal CornBelters for the second-half lead in the Great River Division.

Elmore, who joined the Bees at the beginning of the month, was 1-for-9 at the plate in his first three games. But a piece of advice from Bees manager Owen Oreskovich when the team started its road trip last week has changed Elmore’s approach at the plate.

“When I got here, on every single fastball, I was completely late,” Elmore said. “I was swinging with it. He said, ‘Hit it out front.’ Something so simple like that made sense.”

“One key little word, and it worked,” Oreskovich said.

Elmore went 1-for-4 with a home run in last Wednesday’s game at Lafayette. He went 0-for-3 in Friday’s loss at Terre Haute, but he was making contact.

Elmore hit a solo home run in the third inning of this game, then drove in a run with a single in the sixth inning.

He came up with two outs in the eighth, with the score tied at 5 and Jaden Hackbarth on second base. Elmore swung at a high 3-2 pitch and fouled it back, then looked down to Oreskovich and gestured. The gesture from Oreskovich back gave Elmore the answer he was seeking.

“I wanted to know if it was in the (strike) zone,” Elmore said. “I was confident I was on it.”

“He asked me, ‘Was that up?’” Oreskovich said, laughing. “I said, ‘Way up.’”

Elmore then singled off Bryce Grossius (0-1) on the next pitch. Hackbarth slid across the plate ahead of the throw from center field, and the Bees had the lead.

Kyle Maurer then struck out two of the four hitters he faced in the ninth to pick up his fourth save of the season.

Nick Tampa (2-1) was the winning pitcher. The Bees got 3 ⅔ shutout innings from Tampa, Maurer and Jeron Conner.

Elmore, who plays at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, was working at a landscaping job in late June when he got a call from his coach, Jerod Edmundson, telling him the Bees were looking for a catcher.

“(Bees coach) Chris Monroe played for my coach (at Framingham State),” said Elmore, who hit .236 this season with eight home runs. “This team needed catchers. I got the call, I was at work, and my coach said there was an opportunity. So I took it.”

Elmore is hitting .250 with the Bees in six games. His hitting problem since he joined the team has been solved.

“He said it today,” Oreskovich said. ‘‘One little thing and it clicked like that.’ He’s an awesome kid. Really works hard behind the plate. It’s great to see.”

ON DECK: The Bees play host to the Clinton LumberKings in Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. game.

Photo: Bees catcher Nolan Elmore watches his third-inning home run. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: Late-Season Run Will Depend On Pitching Balance

By John Bohnenkamp

The rainout of Sunday’s game at Danville gave the Burlington Bees something they weren’t going to have for a while — a day off.

It would have been the fifth game in what was going to be a 20-games-in-20-days stretch for the Bees as they try to get a second-half playoff berth in the Prospect League.

The game isn’t going to be rescheduled — the Bees and Dans don’t play again this season — which could play a factor in the playoff chase. The Bees (15-25 overall, 4-5 second half) are percentage points behind Normal in the Great River Division.

But what helps is a day off when pitching is at such a premium in the closing weeks.

Some pitchers are on either a pitch count or an innings limit after either a lot of work during the college season or no work at all. Other pitchers may not be on a limit, but are tiring after a long college season followed by two months of summer-league play.

And, arms are at a premium at this point of the summer anyway. With so many college leagues going around the nation, everyone is looking for help.

That’s why getting to the end of the season with a pitching staff intact is going to be important in the playoff race.

“I think, truthfully, it will be (important),” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said. “If you’ve got pitching, if you’ve got good pitchers, if you’ve got more of them than a lot of other people, you’re going to be better off.”

The management of the workload of the Bees’ pitching could be seen last week.

Cauy Massner went seven innings in the 5-1 loss to Springfield on Monday. It was the longest outing by a Bees’ pitcher this season, but Massner threw only 87 pitches, eight under the league’s pitch limit for a game.

Oreskovich used three pitchers in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss at Lafayette. Starter Garrett Moltzan threw 75 pitches in six innings, and relievers Hamilkar Medina and Tucker Cole each threw one inning.

Three pitchers were used in the 4-0 loss to Lafayette on Thursday — Paolo Zavala went five innings, Nick Tampa went one and Jaxon Ingram went two.

Oreskovich used just two pitchers in the 5-4 loss at Terre Haute on Friday — Jared Townsend (5 ⅓ innings) and CJ Lewis (2 ⅔). Trevor McGee (4 ⅓ innings) and Weston Fulk (⅔ of an inning) pitched in Saturday’s rain-shortened 16-5 win at Danville.

The Prospect League has strict pitch-limit rules, but Oreskovich said the key is knowing when a pitcher is ready to come out of a game.

“Because you’re not burning kids, you’re not trying to get something extra out of a kid, like get an extra inning or something,” Oreskovich said. “Like just because he’s not at the pitch count, but he’s gassed. You don’t want to do that to kids. I don’t want to do that to kids. I want to keep them safe, keep them healthy.”

There still could be additions to the Bees’ pitching staff. Any arm would be an asset.

“We have a kid signed to a (temporary) contract, we’re waiting on him to get a flight here,” Oreskovich said. “We’ve got a few other kids in mind who might be coming, might not be coming, we don’t know yet.

“We’re trying to get as much as we can with what we’ve got, but not try to hurt them either. We’re trying to be smart with everything. It’s their career. They’re the ones who have to keep playing the game after this summer. We just have to take care of them, be smart.”

Photo: Hamilkar Medina has been one of the late additions to the Bees’ pitching staff. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

LUCKY HORSESHOES 5, BEES 1: A Lesson In Pitching Efficiency

By John Bohnenkamp

Cauy Massner and Jake Curtis put on a show of pitching efficiency.

Massner, the starter for the Burlington Bees, and Curtis, the starter for the Springfield Lucky Horseshoes, got outs and went deep into Monday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

Curtis was just a little better.

Springfield’s 5-1 win was done in just 2 hours, 9 minutes, thanks to two pitchers who didn’t mess around.

“It was just a good baseball game, a good old-fashioned baseball game right there,” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said.

Massner (0-2) went the longest of any Bees starter this season, throwing 87 pitches — 60 for strikes — in seven innings.

Curtis (1-0) went eight innings, throwing 96 pitches, 67 for strikes. The Prospect League pitch limit is 95, but pitchers are allowed to finish throwing to the hitter they’re facing when they reach that point.

At a time of the season when off-days are rare — the Bees play 20 consecutive games after Tuesday’s day off — the length of a start a pitcher can give can make a difference.

Massner gave up four runs and eight hits, but retired six of the last seven hitters he faced, picking off Payton Pennington for the second out of the seventh when Pennington took off for third base while Massner was getting ready to throw a pitch.

“He might be the first kid we had go seven (innings) this year,” Oreskovich said. “He did a great job. Just left some 0-2 pitches where he shouldn’t have, and they didn’t miss on them. That’s all right, that’s baseball.”

The Lucky Horseshoes (15-21 overall, 3-2 second half) scored a run in the second when Peter Jelenic hit a leadoff triple and scored on Nasir Frederick’s sacrifice fly. Jacob Compton’s two-run double in the third pushed the lead to 3-0.

The Bees (14-22, 3-2) got their only run in the fourth on Marcos Sanchez’s home run, his third in the last two games.

Dayton Nevar’s double scored Compton with Springfield’s fourth run, then the Lucky Horseshoes got a run in the ninth when Johnny Colombo’s single scored Frederick.

Curtis allowed just three hits and struck out two.

“We made contact, they just weren’t falling,” Oreskovich said.

ON DECK: The Bees play at Lafayette in a 6 p.m. game on Wednesday to start a five-game road trip.

Photo: Bees pitcher Cauy Massner went seven innings in Monday’s loss. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: For Monroe, Community Field Is A Perfect Spot

By John Bohnenkamp

It was an hour before Saturday’s game against the Cape Catfish, but Sam Monroe wasn’t in uniform yet.

He was on the lineup card at the top of the Burlington Bees’ batting order, his customary spot, but there was work to be done before the game

Monroe was there helping as Bees manager Owen Oreskovich and his coaching staff got the playing surface at Community Field ready. Because besides being an outfielder with the team, Monroe is also working as a groundskeeping intern.

Community Field has been his home the last two seasons — in the spring with Southeastern Community College, in the summer with the Bees in the Prospect League. It’s a place that Monroe, who is from Moline, Illinois, considers special.

“I like taking care of the ball field, making sure it looks good,” Monroe said. “Just making sure this place is nice and beautiful.”

Monroe is going to the Missouri University of Science & Technology in the fall — he’ll major in electrical engineering. But he’s enjoying taking care of Community Field, whether it’s an assignment of painting bases or painting the lines on the field.

“It’s not necessarily an internship that pertains to my major,” Monroe said. “But it’s good to keep working, do some labor in the summer.”

Monroe is making some summer money, while also getting housing at SCC, as part of his internship.

“He’s a special kind of human being,” Oreskovich said. “He likes to work. He’s not a kid that’s going to be lazy, sit around. Even if he wasn’t a grounds crew guy, an intern, he would still be the one out there helping.”

“I would be here a couple of hours before the game anyway, just because I like being around the field,” Monroe said. “ If I can lend a helping hand, I would be doing that anyway.”

Monroe is also one of the better leadoff men in the Prospect League. Monroe, who is hitting .264 in 32 games, leads the league with 31 walks. He’s tied for ninth with a .435 on-base percentage, and is tied for 11th with 27 runs scored.

“Having him at the top of the order, with that spark he has, a great eye, the ability to hit, it leads us for the entire game,” Oreskovich said.

Monroe’s consistent approach has helped him all season, and it showed in Friday’s 5-4 comeback win over the Normal CornBelters.

Monroe’s single on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded drove home two runs to get the Bees within 4-3 and when Normal right fielder Wilson Zuck bobbled the ball, Monroe was able to advance to second on the play. One batter later, Chase Honeycutt’s single to left-center field brought in Trey Adams and Monroe with the winning runs.

“Besides the walk-off, his was the best at-bat of the inning,” Oreskovich said, noting how Monroe had barely fouled off the pitch before his single to keep the at-bat going.

“It’s important, moments like those, that you’ve got to take at-bats the same way,” Monroe said. “You approach nobody on with one out in the bottom of the second as you would bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. You focus on what you can pull from the pitcher, stay to your approach, don’t let the moment change what you do in the box.”

Monroe grew up going to Class A Midwest League games in the Quad Cities, so he was familiar with Burlington when the Bees were members of the league.

Playing in what used to be a professional setting is something he appreciates.

“You’re in this ballpark, people ask you for autographs, things like that,” Monroe said. “I think the people here have made it a second home. It feels like I’m living out a dream of playing professional baseball. Pretend for a while it’s what I’m doing, you know?”

“He’s meant everything to our team,” Oreskovich said. “I’ve said this before, but he’s the perfect player for a summer-league team. He comes here, looking to play every day, doing what he can to help.

“He’s an awesome kid. When you talk to him about things that aren’t about baseball, he’s just awesome to talk to, enjoyable to talk to.”

Monroe is looking forward to getting to Missouri S&T. It’s his next home.

“I really liked how they approached the game of baseball,” he said. “It’s hard to find a group of players as it is, but now you have to find players who are going for an engineering degree, which is rare. I think they do a good job with it. And I couldn’t argue with the academics down there. I’m getting into a good baseball program, and getting a good education. So it’s a good situation.”

For now, he’s spending the summer taking care of his current home. And he appreciates it when his teammates lend a hand.

“Guys will come out and help set up batting practice,” Monroe said. “They don’t have to do that. But they see me helping them out, so they’ll help me out. It’s being good teammates, good friends.

“You feel like you’re a professional baseball player, the way the fans treat you here. But at the end of the day, we’re still college baseball players. So we can go out and pull tarp, we can go do things to keep this place looking great.”

Photo: Sam Monroe has played in 32 games for the Burlington Bees this season, but he’s also been working as an intern with the team, helping take care of the field. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 12, LUMBERKINGS 9: Pitching Plan Works In Win

By John Bohnenkamp

Owen Oreskovich had to piece together a pitching plan on Sunday.

It worked.

Four Burlington Bees pitchers combined to strand 17 Clinton LumberKings in a 12-9 win in the Prospect League game at Community Field.

The Bees (14-21 overall, 3-1 second half) got two home runs from Marcos Sanchez — a two-run homer in the fifth inning and a grand slam in the eighth — and had 17 hits.

But it was the way their pitching got out of numerous jams that proved to be the difference. That’s going to be important, considering that after Tuesday’s off day the Bees have just one day off the final three weeks of the season.

“We’re running a little bit low (on pitching) right now,” Oreskovich said. “We’re trying to save some guys so that you have guys that can pitch on different days.”

Starter Trevor McGee pitched four innings. Jeron Conner (1-0) and Weston Fulk pitched two scoreless innings. Jaxon Ingram pitched the ninth, when Clinton (17-19, 2-3) scored five runs to make the game close.

There was never a clean inning for the Bees, though. McGee stranded seven baserunners, Conner three and Fulk six when he got out of bases-loaded situations in the seventh and eighth.

“We got some big pitches in big situations with the bases loaded,” Oreskovich said.

Sanchez’s fifth-inning home run put the Bees in front, 5-4. Oscar Ponce had a three-run homer in the sixth, then Sanchez added his eighth-inning slam.

Sanchez came into the game batting .163 with one home run. He hit .286 with eight home runs last season.

“That’s the Marcos we saw last year,” Oreskovich said. “When he first got here, his timing wasn’t right. He was a little off. He would be asking me between every inning what was going on. I told him, ‘You’ve just got to feel it.’ He felt it today. He got some pitches to hit, and he didn’t miss them.”

Ponce went 4-for-5 and scored four runs. Sanchez scored three runs, as did Kevin Santiago.

ON DECK: The Bees conclude their four-game homestand with Monday’s 6:30 p.m. game against the Springfield Lucky Horseshoes.

Photo: Marcos Sanchez (15) is greeted at home plate by teammates Oscar Ponce (second from left), Kevin Santiago (second from right) and Jaden Hackbarth after his eighth-inning grand slam. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 9, CATFISH 7: Everything Bounces A Different Way

By John Bohnenkamp

Tucker Cole should have been out, but wasn’t.

And that, Burlington Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said, might be a sign that things are starting to bounce his team’s way to start the second half of the Prospect League season.

The Bees’ five-run seventh inning proved to be the difference in a 9-7 win over the Cape Catfish on Saturday night at Community Field.

Burlington (13-21 overall, 2-1 second half, Great River Division) has won back-to-back games with late rallies. This one was odd — the only hit for the Bees in the seventh was Trey Adams’ two-run single — but still was fun to Oreskovich to watch.

“Oh yeah, it was a good one,” Oreskovich said.

The Bees came back from a 6-4 deficit with a seventh inning that featured five walks, an error, a hit batsman, a passed ball that brought in one run and a wild pitch that brought home Cole, even though it didn’t look like he was going to score.

The wild pitch from Cape reliever Ray Schroeder bounced off the concrete backstop and right back to catcher Andrew Sharp, who whirled to throw to Schroeder covering the plate.

Cole was still several steps from the plate, and Oreskovich, coaching from the third-base box, thought it was going to be an easy out.

“Oh my God,” Oreskovich said, laughing. “(Cole) took off, (the pitch) hit the bricks, and I was like, ‘No…'”

But Schroeder couldn’t handle Sharp’s throw. Cole, who had stopped when he thought he was going to be tagged, darted around Schroeder and scored the fifth run of the inning.

“That’s when you get the feeling that something is going your way here,” Oreskovich said.

It proved to be a key run when the Catfish (14-20, 2-1 Prairie Land Division) tried to come back in the ninth. Kyle Maurer, who got his third save of the season, retired the first two hitters before the Catfish loaded the bases with two walks and a single. Cam Careswell scored on a wild pitch, but with runners on second and third Maurer struck out Christopher Hall to end the game.

The Bees won all four games against the Catfish in their season series.

Nick Tampa (1-1) was the winning pitcher.

“Tampa was incredible, but he has been this entire summer,” Oreskovich said. “He’s not a guy that’s going to blow it by you, but he gives his defense a chance. He’s been so good.”

ON DECK: The Bees play host to the Clinton LumberKings in a 2 p.m. game on Sunday.

Photo: Nick Tampa was the winning pitcher for the Bees in Saturday’s 9-7 win over the Cape Catfish. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 5, CORNBELTERS 4: Honeycutt’s Goodbye Was ‘Storybook’

By John Bohnenkamp

Chase Honeycutt taped a reminder on his bat.

The catcher was playing his last game of the summer with the Burlington Bees. He’s going back to his home in Mississippi, without a college baseball home for next season, an uncertain future in a game that promises nothing.

“Last game here,” Honeycutt said. “Could be the last game ever.”

The goodbye was going to be difficult, so Honeycutt wanted to make sure to absorb, and embrace, all of the final moments.

That’s why he made the reminder to himself, and he made sure to look at it.

Take it all in. 

The lasting image Honeycutt took was of his teammates racing toward him as he stood at second base. Honeycutt’s two-run single capped the Bees’ four-run comeback in the ninth inning of the 5-4 win over the Normal CornBelters in Friday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

“Surreal,” Honeycutt said.

“It’s basically a storybook, right there,” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said, smiling as he recalled what had happened.

Honeycutt got the chance he asked for in the seventh inning, after his infield popout for the second out of the inning. That F-5 in the scorebook wasn’t going to be his farewell.

“I looked at everybody and said, ‘Let me get another at-bat. Do everything you can to give me one more at-bat,’ Honeycutt said. “They did, and luckily I came through.”

Still, he didn’t know if that chance would come.

Which is why Honeycutt stood at home plate when the top of the ninth ended on Bees left fielder Kevin Santiago’s diving catch of a fly ball from Normal’s Jared Comia. Honeycutt stood, nodding with approval, and then stopped to look around the field. He walked slowly to the dugout, stopping to shake hands with plate umpire John Alexander.

Take it all in.

For Honeycutt to get his final at-bat — he was due up fifth in the inning —  a lot had to happen.

A lot did.

Nick Tampa led off the inning with a single to right field on a 3-2 pitch.

“That was the (at-bat) right there,” Oreskovich said. “Tampa saw the spin on the breaking ball the pitch before, knew he was going to get a fastball, and got a good swing on it.”

Dawson Estep was next. His grounder up the middle looked like it was going to be a double play, but Normal second baseman Will Henson bobbled the ball, and everyone was safe.

“You put the ball in play, something can happen,” Oreskovich said.

Trey Adams then walked to load the bases.

“He spits on a high pitch, then draws the walk,” Oreskovich said.

Back to the top of the order. Honeycutt, batting second in the lineup, was going to get his at-bat.

“At that point, I’m thinking, ‘He’s going to win it,’” Oreskovich said.

Honeycutt, standing in the on-deck circle, started scanning the crowd. His parents, his grandmother and grandfather, were among the 553 in attendance.

Take it all in.

Honeycutt had two hits and reached on an error in his first three plate appearances. The first three at-bats were against starter Austin Collison, whose off-speed pitches had kept the Bees from mounting little offense in his five innings. Honeycutt had seen just enough fastballs from reliever Coby Rogers in his seventh-inning plate appearance to speed up his bat.

“That first guy was really slow,” Honeycutt said. “The second guy had a better fastball, and luckily had enough pitches to be geared up for it.”

Sam Monroe then pounded a single into right field to score Tampa and Estep, and when right fielder Wilson Zuck bobbled the ball, Adams and Monroe were able to advance to third and second.

“I had a feeling if he came up with a chance to win the game, that’s how it’s supposed to go,” Oreskovich said. “It’s supposed to go that way.”

Honeycutt jumped on a fastball on the third pitch he saw from Spencer Smith (0-3). The line drive carried into the left-center field gap, and Adams and Monroe raced home with the tying and winning runs.

Honeycutt slowed as he rounded first base and watched the scene develop. And as he reached second base, he did a victory stomp of his feet as his teammates erupted from the dugout.

Take it all in.

“It was, honestly, a dream come true,” Honeycutt said. “It was amazing. I couldn’t picture anything better.”

“He got a pitch he could handle,” Oreskovich said. “And he smoked it.”

Oreskovich kept smiling at the thought of what he had just seen.

“Great kid,” he said of Honeycutt. “I love the kid.

“I think it means more to him than anything. I think it means the world to the kid. In this world, it’s tough. You never know if that at-bat could be his last at-bat ever. You never know. And I think it means the world to him.”

It was one of those nights that Oreskovich said could “flip the script.” The Bees struggled in the first half, and an 0-2 start to the second half could have just added to the disappointment.

“We were talking about it during batting practice,” Oreskovich said. “Guys were saying, ‘Second half, new me.’ Now we realize we have a chance.”

Honeycutt was late getting into the clubhouse after the game. He wasn’t ready to say goodbye, staying out on the field for some final photos.

Take it all in.

He thought about his two seasons with the Bees, his summer home while playing at Jones (Miss.) College.

“It brings back fun in baseball,” Honeycutt said. “Great guys in the locker room. You get to meet new people. You get to meet people from around the country.

“It’s a great experience that I’ll never forget.”

Photo: Chase Honeycutt is doused with water after delivering the game-winning hit in the Burlington Bees’ 5-4 win over Normal. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: Lewis Looks For Next Stop On Journey

By John Bohnenkamp

It’s been an interesting road in the college career of Burlington Bees reliever C.J. Lewis.

“Well, the journey … it’s not over yet,” Lewis said, smiling.

The right-hander is looking for his fourth college program in four seasons, and the summer is a perfect time to audition.

His numbers with the Bees are making coaches notice.

Lewis is 1-0 with a 2.81 earned run average in nine appearances. He has allowed 16 hits in 25 ⅔ innings, striking out 19.

Lewis is in the NCAA transfer portal after pitching just 3 ⅓ innings in three games at Toledo in the spring. He’s hoping someone will see the summer he’s having.

“After every game, I’m sending stuff out,” Lewis said. “So it’s a really big summer for me, in terms of finding what I need to do to be a good pitcher. But also, doing good so I can get stuff out to get the looks that I need.”

Lewis has been a reliable arm out of the bullpen for the Bees, and that was evident in the 2-1 win over the Cape Catfish on June 25. Lewis pitched six innings in relief of starter Jared Townsend, allowing just three hits and an unearned run. He was the winning pitcher when the Bees struck for two runs in the bottom of the 11th innings.

“It was an extreme confidence booster,” Lewis said. “Just going out there, seeing the hard work pay off, it was awesome. A real confidence booster for me.”

“He’s a competitor,” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said after the game, “and we’re riding with him.”

Lewis’ success has come with some experimentation with his mechanics. A new arm slot he’s found, he said, has made the difference.

“It was really kind of trial and error — what works best for me, what can I repeat the most,” Lewis said. “Really just playing with some things, trying to find out what works best.”

Lewis said the arm slot he found came while playing catch before the Bees played the Cape Catfish on the road in a June 10 game. That night, Lewis pitched four innings, allowing just one run while striking out four.

“I really found something I liked,” he said. “I felt amazing.”

Oreskovich likes Lewis’ confidence.

“He has a little extra ‘oomph’ to him,” he said. “He’s got that, ‘I’m that dude,’ to him.”

And Lewis appreciates his manager’s confidence, pointing to his six-inning stint against the Catfish.

“It means a lot,” Lewis said. “It means the trust is there. And that’s all you can ask for as a player — that your coach trusts you, and you get an opportunity.”

Lewis, who grew up in the Bloomington/Normal area in central Illinois, wanted to play somewhere close to home. Bees coach Chris Monroe, who has recruited Lewis throughout his career, called him and invited him to Burlington.

“I had seen all of my friends play for the (Normal) CornBelters (in the Prospect League), but I wanted to go somewhere different,” Lewis said. “So I came here.

“I’ve learned there are great baseball players everywhere. I wasn’t sure what to expect coming in. There’s a lot of talent in this league. Everywhere you go, you’re going to find someone good.”

Lewis wouldn’t mind getting a start or two, since the coaches recruiting him have talked to him about being a starter. But he likes his role with the Bees.

“I don’t mind coming out of the bullpen,” he said. “The tough situations, I like.”

Lewis’ college career started at Chicago State in the 2020 season that was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was eliminated that summer, so Lewis pitched for Parkland Community College in 2021 before moving to Toledo this season.

Now he’s seeking a new path.

“It’s been a ride, lots of ups and downs,” Lewis said. “But I wouldn’t change it for the world. Without the journey, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. And I’m thankful for it.”

Photo: Bees right-hander C.J. Lewis has been one of the team’s top relief pitchers this season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)