MANKATO, MINN. – The Mankato MoonDogs built an early 5-0 lead against the Willmar Stingers on Saturday night but let it slip away en route to a 7-5 loss at Franklin Rogers Park in game two of the pivotal series.
A five-run eighth inning for Willmar turned out to be the difference-maker, transforming a 5-2 MoonDogs lead into a two-run advantage for the Stingers. The frame got off to a rough beginning when Mankato starting pitcher Jon Perrin (Oklahoma St.) gave up a pair of singles to put Willmar runners on first and second, which spelled the end of Perrin’s night. Perrin ended up giving up eight hits and four earned runs over seven innings thrown, adding three strikeouts.
Coming in for Perrin was Cameron Giannini (Southern Mississippi), his first action since going down with an injury in his July 12 start against Duluth. It was clear that Manager Mike Orchard was not trying to rush the rehab of his All-Star pitcher, as Giannini was taken out after facing three batters and recording the first two outs, but not before surrendering Willmar’s first run of the inning on an RBI single by Marc Flores (Hawaii).
Fellow All-Star Jess Amedee (UT-Arlington) got the nod and entered with a chance to hold on to the 5-3 lead and record his 11th save of 2013. But where Amedee has been usually been automatic, he struggled on Saturday, giving up a pair of singles, walked a batter and committed an error over four at-bats, allowing four runs to cross and getting tagged with the loss (2-1) while blowing his first save of the season.
The MoonDogs had a golden opportunity to stage a comeback of their own in the bottom of the ninth, as Stingers’ pitcher Bret Dahlson (Loyola Marymount) walked the bases loaded with only one out on the board. Despite having the winning run sitting on first, the MoonDogs bats went quiet as Willmar was able to turn the last two outs, clinching the win and tying the three-game series at a game apiece.
Mankato got on the board first when a Zack Zehner (Cal Poly SLO) single along with a Stingers’ error brought Chase Simpson (Wichita St.) home from second. The lead was extended to 3-0 later in the third inning when Zehner added his second and third RBIs of the day on a double to left field.
Simpson brought in an additional two runs an inning later when his shot to right plated Timothy Arakawa (Oklahoma St.) and Krysthian Leal (Maryland), giving the MoonDogs a 5-0 lead. The All-Star finished the game batting four-for-five with two runs scored and two RBIs.
Willmar was finally able to break through on Perrin and get on the scoreboard with a lead-off home run by Max Kuhn (Kentucky) in the fifth inning. Kuhn cut the MoonDogs’ lead to three when he scored again in the seventh inning thanks to a Jake Gronsky (Monmouth) single.
The loss was a tough one to swallow for Mankato as they fall to 11-6 and a tie for second place in the North with St. Cloud. The MoonDogs sit three-and-a-half games back of Waterloo in the Second Half standings and three-and-a-half back of Willmar in the overall standings. Sunday night’s series finale in Willmar is a crucial one for Mankato who needs to gain some ground to keep their playoff hopes alive. Brock Dykxhoorn (West Virginia, 2-3) is scheduled to make the start for Mankato in game three, which is slated for a 6:05 p.m. start at Bill Taunton Stadium.
Following Sunday’s game is the three-day All-Star break, and the MoonDogs return to the Frank on Thursday, July 25 to kick off a huge three-game set with the Waterloo Bucks. Thursday’s game will feature performances from the Russian Bar Trio, presented by Mankato Clinic and KEYC.
Great seats are available to all remaining home games, on sale at the MoonDogs office located at 1221 Caledonia Street in Mankato, as well as over the phone at 507-625-7047. To stay up to date, Like the MoonDogs on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter (@MoonDogsBall), or visit the website at www.mankatomoondogs.com.