NORMAL — The fringes of the Frontier League wild card playoff race just can't shake the Normal CornBelters.
Another strong pitching performance from starter Scott Sebald keyed Normal to 5-2 win over Southern Illinois on Wednesday at the Corn Crib.
The Belters (39-40) are one game shy of the .500 mark and moved within 3½ games of a wild card spot with four teams still ahead of Normal in the pursuit of two wild card berths.
"Our pitching has been absolutley fantastic this month so far," said Normal manager Brooks Carey, whose team sports a 2.85 ERA over the past 11 games. "We're going to quietly try to keep pitching well and see how many we can win before this is over."
Sebald (8-1) allowed two earned runs over seven innings, striking out two and walking one. The left-hander has a 1.57 ERA over his last five starts.
"Everything has been working," Sebald said. "Everybody is hitting, the defense is great and everything is going good right now."
"I can't remember the last time he's really thrown bad," Carey said. "If we make a play (in the second inning), you've got another shutout."
Allthough there are teams to climb over in the final 2½ weeks of the season, Sebald believes the Belters are firmly in the playoff hunt.
"As long as we keep doing what we're doing we're going to keep gaining ground," said Sebald. "I think we've got a really good chance to get in there."
Chad Gendron struck out three over the final two innings to secure his second save with closer Francisco Carrillo taking the night off.
"I wanted to see what he (Gendron) could do in the ninth inning," Carey said. "It looks like that doesn't bother him."
After hitting the Miners with five first-inning runs Tuesday, Normal scored four in the opening frame Wednesday.
Yeixon Ruiz walked and took third on a perfectly executed hit and run from Santiago Chirino. A similarly stellar hit and run single from Aaron Dudley drove in Ruiz.
Justin Fletcher's sacrifice fly knocked in Chirino, and Dudley came home on a Miguel Torres hit. Jesus Solorzano reached on an error and scored on a second miscue by Southern Illinois shortstop Culver Plant.
Normal managed just one hit over the next four innings before Solorzano launched a 1-1 pitch from Miners' starter Robby Rowland nearly to the top of the left-field berm for his third home run of the season.
Southern Illinois scored twice in the second inning, but Sebald stranded runners at first and second.
The Belters gun for the series sweep Thursday in a 6:35 p.m. start.