TERRE HAUTE —
Nick Cunningham took the mound Thursday in his relatively new role as starting pitcher looking to give the Terre Haute Rex some breathing room atop the Prospect League West Division standings.
Mission accomplished for the Indianapolis native and NCAA champion Arizona Wildcat.
Cunningham tossed 51⁄3 innings in front of 1,074 fans, allowing just one first-inning run and four hits to extend the Rex lead on the Quincy Gems to three games with a 3-1 victory.
“I like to give my team a chance to win. Personally, I always want to go all nine, but at the same time, I’m glad I put us in position to win the game,” said Cunningham, making his third start with the Rex. He has been a reliever all through his college career.
“This year, they asked me to start and I said ‘Yeah, let’s do it. If you need me to do it, I’m down to do it,’ ” Cunningham said. “There’s a little more room for error as a starter. Coming out of the pen, you can give up one run and it costs you. As a starter, you can find that rhythm.”
Terre Haute (10-4) can extend that lead even further tonight at Bob Warn Field. Tonight’s game is “Strike Out Breast Cancer,” and two pink wooden bats autographed by the Rex will be auctioned off and proceeds given to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Teams will wear pink shoelaces and use pink bats.
Cunningham couldn’t have earned the big victory without the help of his bullpen. Terre Haute South graduate Josh Dove relieved Cunningham with two on and one out in the sixth inning.
“Nick did a really nice job of battling tonight without his best stuff,” Rex manager Brian Dorsett said. “Then everyone came in and did a really nice job afterward.”
Greg Allen and Zach George executed a double steal to put runners on second and third against Dove, who then intentionally walked Aaron Priestes to set up a double-play opportunity. Dove got Drew Carlile to pop out to shortstop and Matt Munoz to ground out to second.
Dove struck out two in the seventh, and lefty John Oltman was effective in the eighth. Nick Blount, a former University of Tennessee closer, loaded the bases full of Gems before coaxing a ground by Allen to end the game.
The Rex offense got an early jump start from leadoff man Patrick Chandler, who walked in the first inning and attempted a steal of home, drawing a balk on Quincy pitcher Cody Woodhouse.
The Rex added a run in the bottom of the sixth when Nick Johnson led off with a single and scored on a single up the middle by Kyle Kempf, who watched his batting average inch closer to the .400 mark.