MANKATO, MINN.– Despite facing early adversity, the Mankato MoonDogs responded in a big way, fighting their way to a 9-4 victory over the Thunder Bay Border Cats on Friday night at Franklin Rogers Park, extending their winning streak to a season-high four games.
The first inning went hardly as planned for Mankato, as starting pitcher Kahana Neal (Univ. of the Cumberlands) quickly found himself in trouble against the Border Cats’ offense. The Junior from Pearl City, Hawaii got roughed up for two runs on three hits against, but most costly, threw 41 pitches which ended his night after one inning as per the Northwoods League inning pitch maximum of 35.
Instead of getting discouraged against a Thunder Bay team that has seemed to have the MoonDogs’ number in 2013, Mankato threw their own haymaker in the bottom of the second. Two walks and a hit batter by Border Cats’ starter Anthony Pastrana (Dominican College) loaded the bases, and a Chase Simpson (Wichita St.) grand slam turned the game on its’ head and put the MoonDogs in the drivers seat for the remainder of the night. Simpson’s cannon over the deep center field wall, his ninth of the season, added four RBIs to his two runs scored on the night.
Mankato extended upon their lead in the fourth inning, as three runs on two hits spotted the MoonDogs a 7-2 lead. Zack Zehner (Cal Poly SLO) notched an RBI single and John Michael Twichell hit a two-RBI single to bring the runs across. Zehner hit three-for-four with two runs scored and an RBI.
Mankato was able to add runs in the sixth and seventh innings to stretch their lead to 9-2 before Thunder Bay got two runs back over the last two innings.
While Simpson’s base-clearing grand slam might have been what gave the MoonDogs the lead, the massive performance of pitcher Sam Clay (Georgia Tech) out of the bullpen kept Thunder Bay off of the board until late in the game. Entering in the second, Clay threw five and a third innings of three-hit ball, striking out seven while not giving up a run.
Cody Jansen (Purdue North Central) and Ryan Zehner (Santa Barbara City College) combined to throw the last two and two-third innings to close out the game, giving up two hits and two runs apiece. A trio of strikeouts by Zehner retired the Border Cats in the ninth to secure the big victory for Mankato.
The victory, the MoonDogs fourth consecutive, was only their third against Thunder Bay in seven games this season. By improving to 17-9 Mankato kept pace with Waterloo in the Second Half standings, remaining three games back of the Bucks and a game ahead of the third-place Duluth Huskies. In the all-important overall standings, Mankato gained some ground on Willmar, who fell to Waterloo on Friday, as the MoonDogs only sit half a game back from the Stingers. Duluth remains two games up on Mankato in the race for next best overall record in the North, with a big two game series between the two teams looming on Sunday.
Before the Huskies come to town the MoonDogs and Border Cats have one more score to settle, as the two teams play their final game of the 2013 season on Saturday night at the Frank. It is the full-size baseball bat giveaway night, with the first 400 kids through the gates receiving their own bat. Gates open at 6:05 p.m. for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch.
To make sure you dont miss any of the action, get your tickets today by visiting the MoonDogs office at 1221 Caledonia Street in Mankato, or over the phone at 507-625-7047. For more information and up-to-date news, stats and more visit our website at www.mankatomoondogs.com, Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter (@MoonDogsBall).