Whitley, potent offense sparks Corpus Christi to first-half title

By Pat Turner

Forrest Whitley’s homecoming turned out to be much to his liking Monday night.

Not only was the Alamo Heights pitcher getting the start for Corpus Christi against the Missions in front of family and friends, he was taking the mound with the Texas League South Division first title on the line.

Whitley didn’t get a decision, but he did his part to help the Hooks wrap up the crown in a 12-0 victory.

Corpus Christi, which was six games behind the Missions at one time, has been on a roll the past month. The Hooks took over first place with Sunday’s 8-6 win and was looking for Whitley to set the tone in Monday’s winner take all match.

Whitley did not disappoint as he allowed two hits and struck out seven during his four innings. The lone hits came on singles from Josh Naylor in the third and Webster Rivas in the fourth.

“It was a great night,” said Whitley, who has not allowed a run in his 12 innings of work. “It was exciting. Our team played great. Everyone is excited. This team is much fun. I’ve known a lot of these guys since I was drafted (2016). We get along so well. It is super fun to play with these guys. The chemistry is great.”

Whitley, who started the season late because of a 50-game suspension, wasn’t overly pleased with his outing. However, he was sharp enough to keep the Hooks off balance. Of course, he was pleased with the end results. At the same time, the pitcher is happy to be back in the swing of things.

“I have never really pitched well here,” said Whitley with a laugh, referring to his high school outings at the Wolff. “I wasn’t in my rhythm, but it will be better the next time. I need to throw better pitches. I wasn’t getting good pitches on two pitch counts. It is definitely something I need to work on.

“But I feel great. I am trying to build off these outings and learn from every one of them. I’m so happy to be competing. It’s so much fun to be on a five-man rotation.”

Of course, the Hooks’ batters made Whitley’s working conditions quite comfortable as they provided the Houston Astros’ top prospect an 8-0 cushion.

Some of that comfort came before he even took the mound as the Hooks gave him a 3-0 lead during their first at-bat.

The Missions helped the Hooks set up their early burst with a walk and fielding error by third baseman Ty France.

Rehab starter Colin Rea (0-3) recorded two outs to give the Missions hopes of getting out of the jam unscathed. That’s when the Hooks delivered the goods.

Jamie Ritchie lined a two-run single to left and galloped home on Alex De Goti’s double.

The Missions, however, caught a break when Ryne Birk singled to right. De Goti had enough time to score but missed the plate and catcher Walter Rivas tagged the Hooks’ baserunner before he could touch home.

Whitley received a bigger cushion in the second as back-to-back doubles by Anibal Sierra and Josh Rojas upped Corpus Christi’s lead to 4-0.

Things only got worse for the Missions. In the third, De Goti and Birk planted one-out singles into right.

Chas McCormick brought them home by slapping a triple past a diving center fielder Michael Gettys. McCormick then scored on a wild pitch.

In the fourth, another fielding miscue by France set up a run-scoring single by Yordan Alvarez.

Alvarez delivered more pain to the Missions with a three-run homer in the eighth, set up by San Antonio’s third error and Stephen Wrenn’s single.

The Hooks’ 12th run crossed the plate in the ninth when Birk slashed a triple to center and scored on McCormick’s blooper into shallow center.

After Whitley left, the Missions totaled six more hits. However, relievers Alex Winkelman (3-2) and Akeem Bostick kept the shutout secure,

It’s been a disappointing past few days for the Missions, who began their four-game losing streak with two setbacks at Frisco.

For the most part, the Missions had been rolling as evident of their 42 wins and placing 10 on the Texas League All-Star game. The past four days have resembled a nightmare.

“The most disappointing thing to me is the performance given the magnitude of the game,” Missions manager Phillip Wellman said. “Nothing went our way, and everything went their way. We didn’t swing the bats good. We didn’t play good defense and we didn’t pitch good. That incriminates you when you win 42 games in a half.

“If someone would have told me before the season we would win 42 games in the first half I would be ecstatic. We accomplished a lot. But tonight, it was a disappointment. It goes go back to the games we lost in Frisco. If we would have won those we wouldn’t be talking about this.”

Now, the Missions turn their attention to the second half, which begins against the Hooks Tuesday.

“There is another half,” Wellman said. “If we keep playing close to what we have played in the first half, I believe we’ll be playing (Corpus Christi) in the playoffs. I think we’re the two best teams in the league.”

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