By Lance Jones
The Thunder Bay Border Cats survived five errors, and a crazy finish which seen the tying run on the basepaths in a 6-5 win over the Mankato MoonDogs. The score was just 2-1 heading into the seventh inning.
Four hitters managed two hit games for the Border Cats, including notably Karsten Vasquez (College of San Mateo-CA) at the top of the order. Some analysis on that soon. Joining Vasquez in the multi hit club for this one was Anthony Galati (Radford University-VA), Jakob Newton (Florida Tech) and Ryne Edmondson (Houston Baptist). Noah Reed (Lincoln Trail College) had two runs batted in, in the win.
Michael Perez (UCLA) managed a 3-for-5 game. Jake Moberg (UCLA) was 2-for-2 with two walks and two runs scored.
With two out in the second, the Cats got a bit of a rally going against MoonDogs Starter and Veteran Brett Newberg (Austin Peay State). Edmondson ripped one past the second baseman to get aboard. Joe Jimenez battled his way through eight pitches and walked on. Reed got the Cats the lead with his first double into right centre making it 1-0.
This gave Border Cat Starter Alex Dafoe a run to work with. It held up until the home half of the third, where a leadoff double and error became trouble. Moberg teed one over the right fielder’s head for a two bagger. Damon Maynard (Illinois State) hit a grounder in which the throw kind of plopped out of the first baseman’s glove like a bar of soap out of your hands and allowed Moberg to come home and tie it up.
Thunder Bay would get a little Tim Hortons action in the fifth. The old double-double gave the Border Cats the lead. Vasquez hit a lucky one in the corner that the right fielder just seen slip out the end of his glove going full stretch. It is Vasquez’s third double of the season. Galati bounced a double into left centre, notching his third double and 17th run batted in.
Newberg’s night would be complete in the sixth. He went 5 2/3 allowing two runs on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts. Newberg would take a no decision.
Jesse Parker’s (Lewis-Clark State College) welcome to the Northwoods League would see the Border Cats tag him with a run. After Parker walked JJ Rollon (Pima CC-AZ). Vasquez would reach across the plate to just poke one through the infield pushing Rollon to third. Rollon would score on a cheeky double steal that seen Vasquez to second and pushed it to a 3-1 lead.
A Dafoe walk came back to haunt him in the home half. Josh Elvir (Angelo State) worked the free pass at the start of the inning. Elvir pilfered second base then a couple ground outs scored him.
Dafoe left the game as the pitcher of record at that point. He had an amazing quality start, going seven innings allowing just three hits, and walking three which turned into two runs, just one earned. Dafoe only needed two punch outs in the effort.
Jordan Jackson (Nevada-Reno) , the ex MoonDog would come on in relief, and the defense behind him could not hold the win for Dafoe. Cuba Bess got to second base to leadoff the inning on a fly ball to left that the fielder dropped, officially the fifth error of the night. Perez was lucky on a pop up that Rollon lost the ball in the lights and allowed him aboard. Bess moved to third. A passed ball completed the come back. However, Jackson got a major strikeout of Elvir. Dayton Dooney (Arizona) got lucky as his single to third put runners on the corners, and yet another bad luck bounce against Jackson. Casagrande made great contact into centre but Rollon made up for losing the ball earlier, by not losing this one. A stunning diving catch finally got Jackson out and with the game tied 3-3, it setup the ninth inning fireworks display.
Jack Pilcher (Butler) had entered the game for Mankato late in the eighth and would become his own worst enemy in the ninth. Galati hit one with a vapour trail to right for a single. Then Pilcher unleashed a fastball at Conor Allard’s (Nevada-Reno) head. His helmet did the job and Allard looked as casual as James Bond walking to first. Jordan Larson (Northern Illinois) took a walk and Cats were everywhere with Pilcher’s job to try and herd them. Every try to herd Cats? Newton, who had already pushed the on base streak to 32 games came through with clutch contact and his 13th run batted in. Pilcher got a key strike out for the second out. But then more wildness and Jimenez got hit by a pitch to count Allard. Four pitches later and Reed was at first on a base on balls, with Larson trotting home. Three runs on two hits and two hit batsmen.
Jackson would find more trouble in the ninth. A head start for the MoonDogs in the form of a Moberg walk started it out. Jackson returned pinch hitter Tanner Craig (Evansville) to the bench. Craig who’d been wasting some pitches, succumbed to a fastball on the outer half. Nick Novak (Angelo State) ripped a double to left. Cuba Bess (Grand Canyon) plated Moberg to cut it to 6-4 on a sacrifice fly to centre which was enough to move Novak down to third as well. Perez hit a seeing eye single that plated Novak and drew the Dogs to within one. Jackson put his hand to his face to relieve some stress. He then put his head down and struck out Adan Fernandez to cling on for the win.
Jackson would pick up the win to push his record to 2-2. He surrendered three runs (two earned) on four hits and a walk with three strikeouts over two innings.
Pilcher was marked for the loss with the wild ninth dropping him to 0-1. He threw 1 1/3 allowing three runs on two hits, two walks and three strikeouts.
Back to Vasquez for a moment. The leadoff hitter pulled off the extraordinary. Heading into the game the combination of one hole hitters this season was hitting just .142 with an OPS of just .381. The last time anyone managed a multi-hit game in the top spot was Nick Seamons back on July 10th. It may be tempting to say, well the offense is struggling. But consider this, the next worst OPS on the team belongs to the eight hitter, whose OPS is still .557, nearly 200 points higher. Additionally, there are only three other times the leadoff hitter has had multi-hit games. Newton accomplished this twice, , and Nate Soriano (Houston Baptist) in the season opener, recorded the only three hit game out of the top spot. Cats Manager Eric Vasquez has tried every sort of hitter in the spot and every form of lineup, but it has been a black hole.
The Cats and Dogs meet for the last time this season on Wednesday night, the last game of the road trip. It is a chance for the Border Cats to earn a season series split, coming back from losing the first four games of the eight game series.