NORMAL — Home runs from Sean Hurley and Michael Baca helped the Normal CornBelters halt their losing streak at five Wednesday with a 9-5 victory over Florence at the Corn Crib.
The Belters (44-39) remained in first place in the Frontier League's tight West Division race, one-half game in front of River City, 1½ up on Evansville, two on Southern Illinois and 2½ on Florence.
"We control our own fate now. We've just got to keep winning ballgames," Normal manager Billy Horn said. "The bats came alive today, and we got pretty good pitching."
Florence took a 3-0 lead in the second on a three-run homer from catcher Ryan Rinsky, who entered the game with a .165 average and had not cleared the fence in 85 at-bats.
All three runs were unearned against Normal starter Nick Bozman (6-1) after two Belters errors started the rally.
Normal came back with two in the bottom of the inning as a bases-loaded walk to Cam Adams forced home Andrew Godbold and Chris iriart scored as Baca bounced out.
Hurley's two-run blast in the third scored Derrick Loveless ahead of him for a 4-3 Normal lead.
After the Freedom forged a 4-4 tie with a tally in the fourth, Baca broke the deadlock with a solo homer to left field.
Godbold and Santiago Chirino drove in two runs each as Normal expanded its margin with one run in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the eighth.
Bozman allowed one earned run, walked four and struck out two in five innings. Sean Johnson worked the next three innings and Evan Smith the ninth.
"Boz got himself in and out of trouble all night," said Horn. "Johnson came up with three big innings."
Landwehr done for season: Normal has lost the ace of its starting rotation — again.
Former Illinois State pither Jack Landwehr, who injured his hamstring Tuesday while covering first base on a potential double play, will be sidelined for the remainder of the Frontier League season, according to Horn.
"He's done for the year," Horn said. "He's not going to be able to recover in time. The way I see it, this is the fourth No. 1 starting pitcher we've lost."
A contender for Frontier League Rookie of the Year, Landwehr leads the Belters in wins with eight. Along with an 8-3 record, the right-hander sports a 3.32 ERA.
Horn earlier lost starters Scott Sebald, Matt Portland and Ryan Lawlor, but could take solace in the fact all three had their contracts purchased by major league organizations. Back-of-the-rotation starter Mark Hendricks also is out with a season-ending injury.
"We just keep taking hits. We've just got to keep keeping on," said Horn. "You can only ask so much from your bullpen."
Replacing Landwehr is a bit of an issue because the Frontier League transaction deadline has passed. The Belters are not allowed to trade for a pitcher from another independent league.
Therefore, Normal plans to add Chance Simpson on Thursday for a Sunday start at Southern Illinois. A Lewistown native, Simpson pitched two innings for the Belters last season and has been throwing in an amateur league.
"He's a teacher and lives about an hour away," Horn said. "We'll give him an opportunity. He's been in this league before and knows what he's doing."