Rox Top Border Cats in Slugfest to Finish 2019 Schedule
By Lance Jones
Following the biggest fireworks show of the year in Thunder Bay, the St. Cloud Rox and Thunder Bay Border Cats offense showcased their might in a 16-9 Rox win on a sun splashed Sunday afternoon at Port Arthur Stadium. The teams combined for 30 hits in a game that started out close before the Rox took control.
Six Rox had multi-hit games, led by Zack Elliott (Minnesota) who ran up a 3-for-6 tab and came up a home run short of the cycle. He tallied up five runs batted in. Parker Smejkal (Nebraska-Omaha) who finished 2-for-5 came up with two runs batted in as did Andrew Garcia (Cal State-San Marcos), who was 1-for-2 with two walks, and two runs scored. The Rox clocked a total of seven doubles, with Freddy Achecar (Georgetown) the only multi-double man as both of his hits were two baggers.
Everybody who grabbed a bat except for two Cats got a hit. Those two, Peyton Burks (Arkansas-Pine Bluff) managed to tie the game at two in the third with a sacrifice fly to score a run and Anthony Galati (Radford University-VA) scored twice on two walks. Leading the way was Jordan Larson (Northern Illinois), who played like a man possessed. He ran a 4-for-4 game with two doubles, a run batted in and three runs scored. Doing his best to match that was Joe Jimenez (Chapman University-CA). He toasted up two doubles of his own and two runs batted in, leading up to his two run home run in the ninth to notch two more runs batted in. Jimenez and Larson, also snuck in steals of third base in the second for their fourth and first stolen base each respectively. Jakob Newton (Florida Tech) and Triston Lundgren (Sacramento City College-CA) each had a double in the loss to make six for the Border Cats.
The game was in the Border Cats hands, leading 3-2 into the fourth inning. An unexpected error though seem to open the flood gates on Border Cat Starter Alex Dafoe (Friends University-KS). With the bases loaded Dafoe had two outs and a routine ground ball that tricked Lundgren and scored two. The next pitch was the Elliott triple and a follow up single that scored three more runs and gave the Rox a 7-3 grip on the game. Lundgren cut the saddest figure, knowing he had a third out, and you could do nothing but feel bad for the freshman, who had not played a lot of field this summer or in spring ball.
Dafoe for his part finished with a pretty quality start, but took a loss. He threw six innings, allowing eight runs, just three earned and seen his record finish at 1-6. Thunder Bay’s own DJ DePiero (Bradley University-IL) struck out seven of the 14 hitters he faced over three solid innings.
JT Barnes (Hardin-Simmons University), making his first start for the Rox took the win and went to 1-0. He sprayed nine hits, pitched out of pockets of trouble and allowed four runs with two walks and three strikeouts.
The Rox are off to the playoffs after clinching a spot yesterday as they see the Willmar Stingers on home soil starting Monday.
For the Border Cats, it was tough goodbyes and the recognition of a summer over. The kids who provided the action are back to school and looking to continue learning. The coaches and staff and personnel return to normal schedules, with no more nights of baseball magic and no more afternoons soaking up the rays and taking in a ball game left.
For the first year local ownership group Grand Slam Sports & Entertainment Incorporated, a group of 21 local owners, it will be back to work getting ready for next season. President David Valente and CEO Tony DiPaolo are looking to get it going and already have ideas to get cracking on. By attendance numbers, including the 1,106 on Sunday afternoon for the finale, it represents a 15.3% increase over 2017 numbers and a little 2.5% increase over last summer. It will be interesting to see what the group can do with a full year to prepare the show.
For first year Manager Eric Vasquez, the work towards 2020 begins after a first year that rode its ups and downs. It was a team that was assembled late, but was classy, young and showed promise. It was a tough 0-7 start as Vasquez figured out what he had in the pitching staff. The Cats then took a memorable three of four games against a tough Rochester Honkers squad with the rotation starting to set. It turned into a 3-12 start though. Then the Cats made an 11-8 run to finish as one of the stronger teams in the first half. An inexplicable 2-14 run to open the second half, that seen the offense have more questions than answers brought the Border Cats out of contention quickly. A season that had some promise was all of the sudden over with the Cats playing out the string. Thunder Bay would get plucky performances, they would fight hard and would do their best to entertain the crowds at Port Arthur to run out the end of the season. A team that had nothing much to play for would fight to a respectable 8-12 finish to the season which is hard to do when the season seems lost. A big credit to the players who made it all happen and the coaching staff who provided great guidance.
It’s all to prepare for vision 2020 and the end of May, when the boys of summer are back in town. Season tickets, the early bird special is available now. We’ll see you next year, watch this space for updates!