Papí Swings Knockout Punch

By Lance Jones

There seemed to be a calm after an early offensive storm seen the Thunder Bay Border Cats with a 4-3 lead after four innings. But that was just the appetizer to the complete feast to come as the Cats would hold on to a wild 11-8 win over the Eau Claire Express. Thunder Bay set a team high with 11 runs scored and overcame the only four errors of the series defensively. The Express offense out hit the Cats 14-13 but their bullpen had a rough time with six walks issued and hitting three batters.

It was the final meeting between two teams with different interlocking fortunes in the second half. With the loss Eau Claire drops to 11-7 as they run in lock step with the Duluth Huskies at the top of the division. Thunder Bay moved to 4-14, earning the split with Eau Claire. This was the last meeting of what was a lopsided season series, Eau Claire picking up a 8-3 series win with one game wiped out due to a pitching violation.

Everyone seemed to be going with the late inning, big offense game early on. With two outs in the first Conor Allard (Nevada-Reno) bopped his first of two hits, both doubles, to right. Jordan Larson (Northern Illinois) snapped a single to right and joined the double-digit RBI club to give Thunder Bay a 1-0 lead.

Border Cat Starter Joe Moran (Anderson University-IN) , who got the news that he was added to the Big League Dreams Showcase on Tuesday was looking for another All-Star performance and kept the Express order off balance first time through. But a return to the top of the lineup card with two out in the third produced trouble. Mr. Walker, a.k.a. Cole Cabrera (Cal Poly) (51 walks in 86 at bats) took a base on balls. Brock Burton (Grand Canyon) followed through on a single into left on a line drive. League leading hitter Matt Bottcher (Illinois-Chicago) smashed a double to left to score Cabrera and tie it up. The rare Moran wild pitch combined with an unusual error from Alexander “Papí” Hernandez (Nova Southeastern-FL) scored both Burton and Bottcher to gift the Express a lead.

The Border Cats made sure that lead was short lived. Eau Claire Starting Pitcher Craig Colen (Cal Poly) walked JJ Rollon (Pima CC-AZ) to start the third then got quick back-to-back fly outs. Allard bullishly crushed a double to right centre to score Rollon. Larson fouled off three pitches, worked through nine  tosses and got finally earned ball four. Jakob Newton (Florida Tech) squeezed a single through the left side to load the bases. Papí, made up for the earlier error coming through with a two-RBI single to retake the lead 4-3.

Colen’s night was over in a hurry after reaching the pitch limit (no more than 35 in an inning) hurdle. And, since the offense could come close, but never quite catch the Cats, he was charged with the loss dropping his record to 2-2. He allowed four runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts.

Moran settled into his start working through an error in the fourth and somehow pulling the illusion of a chance away from the Express in the fifth. Despite allowing two walks and a double to go with a wild pitch, Moran got a big strikeout of Bottcher. Papí fought off a wild pitch to catch Burton stealing, who broke late to second. And then Moran got an all-important fly out with the tying run at third.

All seemed calm after 1 1/2 innings of shutout ball. But Thunder Bay got cracking again against Reliever Jonathan Worley (Stanford). Two leadoff singles from Larson and Newton (who extended his on base streak to 26 games) put a threat aboard. On a Ryne Edmondson (Houston Baptist) fly ball to centre, Cabrera lost it in the sun, but recovered to throw out Larson at third. A balk from Worley moved both Newton and Edmondson down to third and second respectively and gave the Cats a chance to push the lead. Nate Soriano (Houston Baptist) shot a screaming banshee of a liner into right-centre scoring two and pushing out the largest lead of the night to 6-3.

Eau Claire said “Not so fast,” as Sam Kohnle (Winona State) singled, the first of yet another two-hit night. Brandon Dieter (Stanford) nailed one up the middle and Sam Stonskas (Blackhawk CC) loaded the bases with a base-hit of his own. Cabrera came through with an RBI-base hit to right that easily scored Kohnle, but Dieter was caught on an Anthony Galati-Jordan Larson relay throw keep a key run off the board. Another Moran wild pitch scored Stonskas, but that was as close as Eau Claire could get off Moran.

The All-Star Sophomore Moran went six pressure packed innings and would take the win collecting two strikeouts. He muscled his way through eight hits and four walks and his first three wild tosses of the year. Moran’s record runs to 4-1 on the season.

Thunder Bay would score a run without a hit off of Tim Ewald (Dallas Baptist) in the sixth. Two walks put Allard and Larson on with one out. A routine ground ball that Newton hit to second collected an RBI. However, that RBI was earned by Allard. He went on a non-stop flight home from second base, rounding third and with a little base running wizardry caught the Express off guard, scoring for a 7-5 lead.

DJ DePiero (Bradley University-IL) got tagged for a run in the seventh. Bottcher generated a run after getting aboard on a cheeky bunt single which was a carbon copy of two bunts he laid against DePiero in game one of the series. Bottcher then stole second. DePiero trying to pay attention to the runner threw a ball away at second on a pickoff move and Bottcher went to third. Nick Marinconz (Cal Poly) scored him on a ground out and DePiero still held the lead.

Another inning without a hit scored a run for the Cats. Ewald’s leadoff walk of Soriano gave way to Rece Finck (Illinois-Springfield). Ewald missed with four straight to put Rollon on. A Karsten Vasquez (College of San Mateo-CA) sacrifice moved both down. Then Anthony Galati (Radford University-VA) knocked in Soriano on a sacrifice fly to push it once again to a two-run lead.

Eau Claire nabbed one back in the top of the eighth on a bases loaded walk from Tyler Hansen (Texas Southern) who relieved DePiero after DePiero allowed a single to start the inning. Hansen seen a walk and sacrifice to follow then hit Burton with a pitch to load them up. He got a major league strike out of Bottcher. Then Hansen walked home a run. However, Hansen managed to retain the lead on a ground ball to get out.

Thunder Bay put the game away in the bottom of the eighth. Newton singled to lead it off. And then Papí Hernandez brought the roof off the joint as he crushed an 0-1 pitch to deep left for his third homer of the season. The Cats were offered more baserunners on consecutive hit batsmen. Galati came through with his second RBI on a run scoring single to left to push it to 11-7.

The classic fan train was on to greet the ninth. Hansen ran into a bit of trouble, the Express being who they are, hitting .282 as a ball club, second best in the league. After allowing a run on a Dieter double and the tying run making its way to the plate, Hansen’s beautiful bender for strike three on out number three picked him up his first save and split of the series for the Cats.

Thunder Bay has Wednesday night off before a long road trip of eight games in seven days. Their first stop on the four city tour will be a look at some revenge which is long owed to the Duluth Huskies, who’ve beaten the Cats thus far to the tune of 7-1 in the season series.