By Lance Jones
It was oh so close! A baseball player’s dream scenario unfolded in the ninth inning. Bases Loaded, 3-2 count, two outs, game on the line, stuff kids dream of in the backyard or on the sandlot. Hitter dreaming of a grand slam to win it, pitcher dreaming of strike three on a fast ball. Crowd making a massive racket and going crazy cheering on the home team. And so it was on Thursday night, with the Thunder Bay Border Cats Jordan Larson (Northern Illinois) at the plate against the St. Cloud Rox Blake Stelzer (Concordia University-St. Paul). Stelzer got the strike out and earned the sweep for the Rox of the two game set.
Both teams did not have a lot of offensive chances, leaving all of five men on base a piece, as pitching dominated game two of the series just as it did in game one. With the win the Rox start the second half of the season 2-0, while the Cats will hit the road looking to get in the win column.
The Rox led throughout and got on the board in the third off of Cats Starting Pitcher Alex Dafoe (Friends University). Garret Nielsen (California-Berkeley) singled the left side of the infield on a play that no one was going to be able to make. Zack Elliott (Minnesota) grounded to third, however a slow moving ball prevented a double play from being pulled as the Cats got the lead runner. Elliott replaced Nielsen at first. Dafoe got a key strikeout. Then Ben Carew (Kent State) came through with his first double of three on the night as he plated Elliott. Carew finished with an amazing four-for-four night.
Conor Allard (Nevada-Reno) then checked in with a solo swat that over the fence in left to tie the game in the fifth. It was the Cats first hit off of Rox Starter Trevor Koenig (St. Cloud State). Prior to their first hit, the only runner that got to first was Ryne Edmondson (Houston Baptist) on a tough error charged to Elliott in the second inning.
St. Cloud would retake the lead immediately in the sixth. Carew would double down the left field line to start the frame. A Dafoe wild pitch allowed Carew down ninety feet, which proved pivotal. Dafoe got a shallow fly ball out of Jordan Barth (Augustana University) which was not enough to send Carew home. However Garett Delano (Brown University) would follow with a fly ball to centre that was just enough to count Carew. Had Carew not been on third, that runner may not have scored or advanced. For Delano it was his 23rd run batted in.
Dafoe’s (1-3) night would conclude as he took the loss surrendering two runs on six hits. He walked no one and struck out five as he threw in a tremendous pitching effort against the league third best hitting ball club.
Jordan Jackson (Nevada-Reno) was brought on in the seventh. He would run into another Carew double in the eighth with two outs. Cats Centerfielder Nick Seamons (Palomar College) did not get a clean read off the bat and the ball kept carrying deeper into centre. Seamons did a great job of keeping it to a two bagger in what could have been three. But he would do the amazing to keep Carew at second and keep the deficit to one. Barth, with a 17 game hitting streak on the line and a third run in scoring position crushed one into the right centre alley and Seamons got on his bike then flew into an aerial dive to rob the Rox of a hit as he went tumbling down to hold on for the last out.
However, Jackson into his longest outing threw a wild pitch with two outs that scored Delano in the ninth to make it 3-1.
Koenig entered the ninth inning with a chance at a complete game. He had allowed just two hits the whole night including the home run and a Thomas Grilli (Panola College) eighth inning single. But, it was about to be his fourth time through the order. And apparently fourth time was a charm for Cats hitters. Seamons, a speed demon of a runner, used a bunt to get aboard on his first hit of the game. Jake Engel (Dixie State) would follow up with one to single and put runners on the corners. And that was enough for Rox Manager Augie Rodriguez to call on Stelzer. Anthony Galati (Sacramento City College) counted Seamons on a sac fly to deep left to draw the Cats within one. Edmondson singled into left and Delano went firing for home to prevent Engel from scoring. The throw gave Edmondson the opportunity to take second. With runners on second and third, the Rox opted to intentionally walk Papí Hernandez (Nova Southeastern) to load the bases with two out and allow Stelzer to look for a double play ball. Instead he got Allard to chase strike three setting up the Larson duel. With the crowd fully in it, the Cats dugout pumped and primed, Larson would succumb to a fastball that ended the game.
Koenig finished with five strikeouts over his start. The seven footer was charged with two runs allowed on four hits as his win pushed his record to 4-1. Stelzer with two strikeouts in the ninth picked up his first save of the season.
An entertaining game to wrap up to the six game home stand will see the Cats now hit the pavement as they are off to La Crosse to take on the Loggers at the Lumberyard. They will look to snap a four game losing streak, their first since early June. After two in Wisconsin the Cats will cross the state line to play the Rochester Honkers for their last meeting of the year before returning to Thunder Bay on Tuesday night.