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Less than a week ago, the Wild Things had one of the best catching situations in the Frontier League.

They had Lucas Herbert, a 22-year-old former second-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves who was hitting at a .290 clip in his first year with Washington. There also was Cody Erickson, a backup catcher who was putting together such a good stretch with the bat that Monday he was named the Frontier League’s Player of the Week.

Things, however, change quickly in this league.

Herbert had his contract purchased by the Arizona Diamondbacks organization on Sunday, leaving Erickson as the only catcher listed on Washington’s roster.

As luck would have it for the Wild Things this year, Erickson went 4-for-4 Tuesday night to raise his batting average to .396 but was hit by a pitch on his right hand in the fifth inning during the win over Southern Illinois. Erickson stayed in and finished that game but his hand was swollen so badly Wednesday that he couldn't play.

So, who is the Wild Things’ third catcher?

That would be first baseman/outfielder J.J. Fernandez, who made an emergency start behind the plate Wednesday night. Little did Fernandez know, he would be catching the longest and wildest game of the season, a 5-4 loss to the Miners in 14 innings. The game didn’t end until 11:48 p.m.

Fernandez wasn’t even the most out-of-position player on the field when it ended. Washington played the final four innings with Michael Austin, a starting pitcher, in left field. After an injury to Miners second baseman Gianfranco Wawoe early in the game, Southern Illinois made several position changes and starting catcher Andy Cosgrove played the final 12 innings at third base.

“That was a quite a marathon. … It was a good fight from both teams,” Southern Illinois manager Mike Pinto said. “Anything can happen in this game. Any time you think you’ve seen everything, something else unusual comes about.”

The craziness in this game started after Southern Illinois seemed to be cruising to a ho-hum victory. Miners starter Marty Anderson took a shutout into the seventh inning and Southern Illinois scored what looked like an insurance run in the top of the ninth for a 3-1 lead.

That’s when things got interesting.

Fernandez drew a one-out walk off the Miners’ hard-throwing closer Nick Duron in the bottom of the ninth. Washington designated hitter Mikael Mogues, who was signed Tuesday, followed with a two-run homer over the video board in right field to tie the score at 3-3.

With one out in the bottom of the 10th, Washington center fielder Saige Jenco was batting with a 1-1 count when he was ejected by home-plate umpire Andy Dudones, who followed it by ejecting backup outfielder Mick Fennell, who was the Wild Things’ dugout as the team’s only available position player.

That forced Washington manager Gregg Langbehn to insert Austin into the game. Austin went 0-for-2 as a batter and didn't have a ball hit to him in left field. In the 12th, with the International Tiebreaker in play, Austin hit an inning-ending groundout with runners on second and third.

Washington seemingly had the game won in the 11th. With Wander Franco at third base and one out, Hector Roa hit a hard shot up the middle that seemed destined to go through the Miners’ drawn-in infield. The ball, however, skipped off the side of the pitcher’s mound and ricocheted directly to shortstop Bryant Flete, who as able to force Franco to hold at third base. A flyout ended the inning.

“We got a break with the ball hitting off the side of the mound,” Pinto admitted.

Both teams scored in the 13th. Southern Illinois used a sacrifice fly by Alex Santana to take a 4-3 lead. Washington answered when Austin, who began the inning at second base in the tiebreaker format, scored a sac fly by Roa.

In the 14th, Southern Illinois’ Joe Duncan started at second base, was bunted to third by Joe Moran and scored on a single by Flete, his fifth hit of the game.

Andrew Bernstein (1-0) threw three hitless innings for the win. The Wild Things’ Nick Durazo (0-2) also was superb, allowing only one hit over four innings of relief with seven strikeouts.

“Durazo pitched great,” Langbehn said.

Southern Illinois outhit Washington 12-5.

“We had terrible at-bats all night,” Langbehn said. “We were lucky to get to the 14th. We had horrible at-bats with runners in scoring position. Several times we had runners on first and second with no outs and couldn’t advance the runners.”

Extra bases

Fernandez had caught 69 games during his nine-year pro career but none since 2017. … Washington starter Nick Wegmann pitched well. He gave up two runs and seven hits over six innings. Wegmann walked three and struck out six. … Santana is the son of former New York Mets shortstop Rafael Santana. … Southern Illinois is 5-0 in ITB games this year and 17-7 over the five years the Frontier League has used the format. The Wild Things are 11-11 all-time in ITB games including 1-1 this year. … It was the 114th ITB game in Frontier League history with 57 being won by the visiting team and 57 by the home team.

Sports Editor

Since 1986, Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for the Observer-Reporter, and named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger, and a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

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