Madison, WI – June 28, 2009. Five Mallard errors coupled with a six-run sixth inning for Brainerd salvaged a road series split for the Lunkers, defeating Madison, 7-4, in front of a crowd of 5,493 at the “Duck Pond” on Sunday afternoon.
Spot-starting for the Mallards was right-hander Mark Ginther (0-1; Oklahoma State) who had made four appearances including one start previous to Sunday. After getting out of a couple jams early in the game, the freshman ran into a buzz saw of base hits and tough fielding errors behind him with a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning.
“We knew going in we didn’t have a lot to work with in the bullpen,” Manager C.J. Thieleke said. “With the idea of what we had in the bullpen, we needed to make plays behind Mark and that’s where we lost it.”
Brainerd began the sixth with a trio of one out singles, loading the bases for the number nine hitter, Stephen Wickens (Florida Gulf Coast). The right-handed batter garnered a hit-by-pitch from Ginther, forcing in the first of six Lunker runs in the inning. An error on Adam McClain (Memphis) at second would allow two more runs to score and a T.J. Berge (Northern Colorado) single to right scored one more.
“You got to put an emphasis on the defense,” Thieleke said of the five errors committed on Sunday. “It’s hard on the pitching staff. I’d like the balls to be true hops, but that’s not the case. It’s an area we need to work on and clean up.”
The Lunkers got on the board first in the second inning thanks to a pair of Mallard errors, one of which allowed lead-off batter Zack Stewart (Ohio Dominion) to reach base. Madison second baseman, McClain, mis-handled the ground ball and his throw to first was a half-step too late. After a sacrifice bunt advanced him to second and a failed pick-off attempt moved him over to third, Dennis O’Grady (Duke) laced a single through the left side to drive in the first Brainerd run of the game, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.
The Mallards pulled even in the bottom of the third when Harold Riggins (NC State) legged out a ground ball to avoid a double play try by the Lunkers with the bases loaded, allowing Joe De Pinto (USC) to score from third. Jimmy Parque (St. John’s) flew out to right with the wind whipping in, just shy of the visitor’s bullpen, mere feet away from a 3-run home run to end the inning.
Madison tacked on two more runs in the fourth on three hits. With runners on first and third, Trent Soares (Fresno State) lifted a ball to deep right center field, bringing in McClain for a sacrifice fly and giving the Mallards their first lead of the game at 2-1. They added one more on a throwing error by the shortstop Wickens. His throw to first was off the mark in trying to complete a double play, allowing Jacob Esch (Georgia Tech) to score from third.
Nobody else would score until the sixth inning, and after five hits, five runs and three Mallard errors with only one out in the inning, Ginther’s day was done. His final line tallied seven runs, four of them earned, on nine hits and two walks while striking out three.
Brad Allen (Elgin CC), having just been signed to a full contract to rejoin the Mallards, came on with one out and retired the next two batters to get out of the inning. He threw 3.1 scoreless innings to close out the game, a positive note in an otherwise dismal showing by the Mallards.
“It was nice to get out there, especially to get thrown in right away,” Allen said of his return to the Mallards. “I was just trying to throw every pitch for a strike and to keep them guessing. They didn’t know what was coming and that was key.”
Allen didn’t allow a single hit and struck out one in his first outing back.
The Mallards tacked on a run in the seventh when Soares tripled to right center, driving in McClain who reached on his second double of the afternoon. Soares finished 2-for-3 with two RBI while McClain went 2-for-2 at the plate with a walk, a hit-by-pitch and two runs scored.
“The at-bats were good,” Thieleke said, commenting on how the Mallards still managed to out-hit the Lunkers, 12-9, despite being out-scored in the game. “With the wind blowing in like it was, 12 hits isn’t bad.”
Brainerd starter Taylor Babich (Rhodes College) pushed his record to 3-1 on the year with the win. Drew Smith (Barton CC) got the save by pitching a scoreless ninth.
The Mallards sit 3.5 games behind first place Eau Claire who battled at Green Bay on Sunday. They have four games remaining in the first half and will begin a home-and-home series with the Wisconsin Woodchucks beginning tomorrow night.
“It’s gut check time at this point,” Thieleke said. “Hopefully our guys get going good, feeling good and we can compete.”
Esch (0-0; 1.80 ERA) will take the mound for Madison on Monday. First pitch will be at 6:35 p.m. at Athletic Park in Wausau.