Mankato, Minn. – Brainerd’s Stephen Wickens delivered daggers to the MoonDogs both offensively and defensively Thursday evening. His two-out, two-run single in the seventh inning proved to be the winning hit and his diving stab of a Kyle Knudson groundball with the tying run on in the ninth secured the lead as Brainerd dealt the MoonDogs a 4-3 setback at Franklin Rogers Park.
Wickens (FGCU) gave the Lunkers (16-17) their first lead with his big hit. With John Brebbia (Elon) on in relief, Wickens’ shot to right field easily scored the runner from third. Kenny Held (New Mexico) came up firing from right, but his throw took a high hop on Xorge Carillo (Arizona State) allowing Will Piwinica-Worms (Duke) to score for the 4-3 lead.
The MoonDogs (23-10) put the tying run on third with one out in the bottom half of that frame. With the infield drawn in, Wickens dove to his right on a hard hit ball by Knudson. It prevented Danny Miller (Minnesota State) from scoring from third, as Drew Smith (Barton CC) went on to record his seventh save of the summer by striking out the next batter.
The loss ended a five-game MoonDogs win streak that matched their season long mark. It was also just the third loss at the Frank this season, as they fell to 14-3 at home.
Kyle Knudson (Minnesota) recorded a 3-5 evening for the MoonDogs, while Miller posted two hits and two RBI. Wickens was the only Lunker to record multiple hits as T.J. Berge (Northern Colorado) and Michael Kvasnicka (Minnesota) also had RBI.
The MoonDogs got off to an early 2-0 lead, courtesy of two Lunkers errors on the first two batters of the game. With AJ Pettersen (Minnesota) on third and Tony Strazzara (San Diego) on first, Miller lofted a sacrifice fly to left center for the first run of the frame. Later on with two outs and the bases loaded, Held worked a long at-bat for a walk and the two-run Moondogs lead.
After Kvasnicka (Minnesota) cut the lead to 2-1 with his run-scoring single in the second, Miller responded in the bottom half. He came up with his second RBI of the night, as his soft ground ball found its way down the third base line, bringing home Pettersen for a 3-1 Dogs lead. Berge would drive a deep sacrifice fly to center in the third to make it a 3-2 MoonDogs lead before Wickens came up with the deciding hit three innings later.
Ryan Demmin (UW-Oshkosh) took the loss (4-2) for Mankato, as he allowed all four runs, just one of which was earned, in six and two-thirds innings. He struck out five and allowed six hits. Ryan Hawthorne (Loyola Marymount) earned his second win (2-0) by striking out four in two innings of scoreless relief.
The game marked the end of the first half of the season for the MoonDogs, as they finished with a franchise record for wins in a half with 23. They finished 3.5 games ahead of Rochester and Alexandria for their second straight first half title.
The second half will start-up tomorrow, as the MoonDogs will host one of the hottest teams in the league in the LaCrosse Loggers. First pitch from Franklin Rogers will be at 7:05 p.m.