The Mankato MoonDogs have been on the outside looking in for the first 71 games of the season. Following an 8-5 victory over Eau Claire and a Waterloo loss in Willmar, the MoonDogs have taken sole possession of first place – for now.
The MoonDogs will play their 72nd game of the season Sunday and the scenario is simple – win and they’re in.
The MoonDogs went into Saturday’s series opener in Eau Claire, knowing it was a must win ball game and they needed a good start from their Northwoods League All-Star pitcher Cord Cockrell. They got just that. The MoonDogs right-hander tossed six strong innings allowing just three runs en route to his sixth win of the season.
The offense took care of business as well, right from the start. Peter Maris roped a sacrifice fly to deep right-center and Levi Scott crushed a two-run homer over the left-centerfield wall to give the MoonDogs a 3-0 lead heading into the home half of the first.
Eau Claire got one back in the bottom of the third, but the MoonDogs struck right back picking up a run of their own on an RBI single by Brent Zimmerman in the top of the fourth to extend their lead to 4-1.
The Express made things interesting with two runs in the bottom of the fifth to tighten the MoonDogs lead to just one at 4-3 heading into the sixth.
Brett Synek and Peter Maris picked up RBI’s in the top of the seventh and Brinn Bell came through with a home run deep into the woods beyond the right field wall in the eighth to give the MoonDogs an 8-4 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth.
Eau Claire picked up one run in the eighth and another in the ninth, but Garret Ring picked up a huge 4-6-3 double play to end the ballgame and secure the 8-5 victory for the MoonDogs.
With the win Mankato improves to 21-14 in the second half while Eau Claire fell to 19-19. The MoonDogs and Express conclude the regular season with a 5:05 first pitch at Carson Park.