Though the Mustangs didn’t score a single run outside of the first inning, starting pitcher Matt Fred’s 16 strikeouts clinched a 5-3 victory over the Chillicothe Mudcats on Thursday at Phil Welch Stadium.

Fred, who before Thursday was sixth on the team in terms of innings pitched, gave an indication of the game to come with two strikeouts in the top of the first inning.

In fact, the Mustangs (18-14, 16-13 MINK) first inning was a strong start on both the defensive and offensive ends. They loaded the bases with just one out on the board, and Ike Book continued his excellent season at the plate with a 2 RBI single to drive in Brady Holden and Jake Grauberger. Sean O’Malley scored on a sacrifice fly from Chase Spoonemoore in the next at bat, and a pair of wild pitches drove in two more runners.

All in all, it was the kind of first inning any pitcher would be glad to see.

“I think it’s always a confidence booster for pitchers when you feel like your guys can get runs early in the game,” Fred said. “That was definitely one of the big confidence boosters.”

Fred continued his dominant run by striking out the side in the second inning.

Meanwhile the Mustangs struggled offensively for the remainder of the game. They connected on just five base hits in the final eight innings and only managed to get a runner in scoring position a single time, an eighth inning insurance run opportunity that failed to materialize.

Fred remained unflappable, even after giving up three runs in the third. He pitched a complete game, recording at least one strikeout in every inning.

With the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth, Fred fittingly ended the game with a strikeout. He said he’s glad to put together this performance after some frustrating early games.

“It was a struggle starting out, so this felt good,” he said. “When I started throwing breaking balls I saw them rocking on their toes, that was a great indication. I had a good catcher behind the plate so that helped, but just being confident with every pitch made it a success tonight.”

Even after two big losses to MINK North rival Clarinda in a road doubleheader on Wednesday, the Mustangs are now 5-2 in their last seven games. Still second in the MINK North with the playoffs a little over a week away, it appears the team might be rounding into postseason form.

“We’re a ridiculously good team,” Fred said. “Sometimes we don’t show it and our confidence lacks but if we can keep what we did today up, we’ll definitely make it.”

Next up, they host a non-MINK opponent in the KC Monarchs on Friday at Phil Welch.

Levi Smith can be reached at levi.smith@newspressnow.com.

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