MARION — The start of a season-long nine-game homestand against the Frontier League’s last-place teams hasn’t exactly gone to plan for the Miners.
In a performance that was worse than Friday night’s 7-3 defeat to Gateway, Southern Illinois trailed 7-0 before the top of the fifth inning ended and never hinted at a comeback in a 10-1 setback Saturday night.
It was the third straight loss for the Miners (26-23), who have dropped eight of 11. After starting 13-2 at home, they have also lost four in a row at Rent One Park, all to teams with sub-.500 records.
The Grizzlies (21-29) looked more like the team contending for a playoff spot than Southern Illinois. First baseman Matt Brown knocked in four runs, while leadoff man Shawon Dunston Jr. contributed four hits and cleanup hitter Luis Roman doubled twice.
Dunston, the son of the longtime former Major Leaguer Shawon Dunston, wasted no time putting the Miners into a problem. He led off the game with a triple to right-center, showing the speed that has him leading the league in steals with 22. Connor Owings cashed him in two batters later with a groundout to second.
Zak Taylor upped the Gateway lead to 2-0 in the second when he slapped a hit-and-run single to right that scored Andrew Daniel. Brown blew it open an inning later when he welcomed reliever Cody Thompson with a two-out, three-run double to left that made it 5-0.
Southern Illinois was hoping for a boost from the return of starter Ryan McAuliffe (shoulder), who was activated off the injured list to make his first start since May 25. Manager Mike Pinto had him on a pitch count, and McAuliffe was lifted after walking Dustin Woodcock on his 53rd offering before Brown’s bases-clearing blow.
McAuliffe (1-1) yielded five hits and five runs in 2 2/3 innings, issuing two walks and whiffing one. Thompson soaked up 5 2/3 innings, permitting eight hits and five runs, but saving the bullpen for Sunday’s series finale.
The Grizzlies increased their lead to a touchdown in the fifth, thanks to the first of two sacrifice flies by Woodcock and a two-out RBI single by Brown.
Given a big early lead, Grizzlies righthander Ian Kahaloa (1-2) wobbled through five innings, throwing 108 pitches but allowing only one run off four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. Joe Duncan’s ground-rule double to left-center in the fifth scored Arturo Nieto with the Miners’ only run.
The ninth inning was insult added to more insults for Southern Illinois. Gateway scored three runs on a wild pitch, Woodcock’s second sacrifice fly and a bases-loaded hit by pitch that gave Taylor an easy RBI.
It marked just the second time this year that the Grizzlies have scored double-figure runs in a game. The Miners coughed up 10 or more runs in a game for the third time since Tuesday.
They have also doled out 15 walks in the series, including five in this game, and plunked three batters. The first three walks on Saturday came around to score.
The Miners try to avoid a series sweep Sunday at 5:05 p.m., when Tyson Cronin (0-0, 7.50) makes his second start since being picked up on Tuesday from Lincoln of the American Association. Dominic Topoozian (4-2, 2.48) will take the ball for the Grizzlies.