SAUGET — It was an epic battle to end all battles.
But when the final out was made on Wednesday it was the Southern Illinois Miners who were left standing at GCS Ballpark -- and with the advantage for the coveted final playoff berth in the Frontier League.
Cory Harrilchak hit a grand slam home run to highlight an eight-run Southern Illinois eighth inning as the Miners went on for a 16-13 win before an exhausted crowd of 1,382 sweaty fans on the hot summer night.
The game took 3 hours and 52 minutes and included a combined total of 355 pitches by 12 pitchers. The victory gives Southern Illinois (49-40) a one-game lead over Gateway (48-41) for the second and final Frontier League playoff berth. There are just seven games remaining.
The Grizzlies didn't quit fighting despite their eight-run deficit.
RBI singles by Jon Myers, Jose Flores and Alex Guthrie cut the Miners' led to 16-11 and, when Michael Pair walked with the bases loaded, the Grizzlies had closed to within 16-12.
Jonathan Johnson then made it 16-13 with a sacrifice fly, but Michael Wing's fly ball fell 10 feet short of a game-tying home run to end the inning.
Gateway had rallied from an 8-3 deficit as Wing and Myers led the comeback.
But the Miners teed off against the Grizzlies bullpen and its top relievers Zac Treece and Richard Barrett in the eighth.
Treece did not retire any of the four hitters he faced, giving up a go-ahead single to Jereme Milons.
An error by Grizzlies third baseman Chris McClendon, a bases loaded walk and a sacrifice fly made the score 16-8 and when Harrilchak unloaded with a grand slam of Barrett, the Miners had a 16-8 lead.
Florence (48-40) also entered play on Wednesday tied with Gateway and Southern Illinois. The Freedom was playing at Normal on Wednesday.
Led by Mendez' big night and a key two-run single by Ken Gregory in the fifth inning, the Miners took a 8-3 lead into the bottom of the sixth before the Grizzlies clawed back into the game.
Southern Illinois starter Blake Nation worked five innings but in the sixth, when Jose Flores singled and Alex Guthrie was hit by a pitch, reliever Pete Perez took over.
With runners on first and second, Wing drove a pitch high off the leftfield wall for a two-run triple. Wing also scored on the play when Miners centerfielder Jereme Milons throw sailed over third base.
Myers then made it 8-7 when he led off the bottom of the seventh inning. Jet Butler then followed with a single and later scored the tying run on a wild pitch by reliever Kyle Wahl.
A throwing error by Wahl moved the go-ahead run to third, but retired the next two hitters to get out of the jam.
The Miners wasted little time in jumping on Baker in the top of the first inning. After retiring the leadoff hitter, Baker allowed four straight singles with Jereme Milons and Ken Gregory driving runs.
Baker (1-5) got out of further trouble bygetting Cannon Lester to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.
Mendez, who singled and scored in the first inning, made it 4-0 in the third inning when he took a 2-2 Baker pitch and lined it over the short fence in right-centerfield for a home run.
Nation, who breezed through the first two innings, ran into control trouble in the third inning.
With one out, Michael Pair walked and went to second when Michael Wing drew a two out walk.
Both runners moved up a base on a wild pitch and McClendon then drove a single to score Pair to get the Grizzlies on the board.
Wing then made it 4-2 a short time later when he scored on Nation's second wild pitch of the inning.
A single by Jose Flores and a two-out error by Miners first baseman Trevor Whyte led to an unearned run in the fourth inning before, Southern Illinois sent Baker to the showers in the fifth.
A one-out walk to Steven Liddle was followed by singles by Mendez and Milons to load the bases.
Gregory then ended Baker's night with a two-run single to increase the lead to 6-3.
Baker worked 4 1/3 innings, allowing six runs on nine hits.
Southern Illinois made it 8-3 in the sixth inning off Brett Higginbotham as Mendez drove in run with a ground out and Milons added an RBI triple.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com