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Small Ball Downs MoonDogs

(7/25/06) The Alexandria Beetles did not have a hard-hit ball among their four hits in the ninth inning, but the ball always seemed to find the soft spot in the MoonDogs’ defense. Coupled with the Beetles’ perfect execution, it was enough to rally Alexandria past the MoonDogs 3-2 Tuesday night.

In the first-ever Northwoods League game to be played in Willmar, the MoonDogs took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. With closer Jason Novak unavailable after pitching three consecutive days, Fabian Gomez was asked to get the final three outs after retiring all six batters he faced in the previous two innings.

With one out, Caleb Curry’s blooper to right landed just fair and just in front of Shane Buschini. On a 2-1 pitch, Curry broke for second base on a hit-and-run, and with second baseman James Keithley covering the bag, Sean Jones’ ground ball went right past the spot vacated by Keithley, and the Beetles and runners at the corners. After a conference on the mound, Danny Worth laid down a bunt up the first base side on the first pitch he saw. Neither Gomez nor Adam Kampsen could make a play, and the tying run scored.

Head coach Jason Nell summoned Tom Porter from the bullpen, and after a double steal, Porter struck out Jonathan Greene for the second out. Porter got ahead of Lucas Duda with two quick strikes, but Duda muscled a high fastball just over the head of Keithley at second base, allowing the winning run to score.

An inning earlier, it appeared that the MoonDogs were on their way to victory using similar small ball tactics. Tim Smith led off the eighth with a double, and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Chris Henault that the Beetles could not field cleanly. After Buschini was intentionally walked, Ryan Addison hit a soft liner to shortstop to plate Smith and give the ‘Dogs a 2-1 lead. Smith also played a role in Mankato’s first run, as his double in the second inning scored Ben Geelan to tie the game.

Johnnie Lowe, whose 0.90 ERA ranked second in the league but was making his first start since July 3, struggled with his command in his return to the rotation. Lowe last just one inning, walking three and allowing one run, but minimized the damage by escaping a bases loaded jam. Josh Rohrich relieved Lowe in the second, and finished with five scoreless innings, giving up just two hits.