Coming off the best first half in Northwoods League history, the Mankato MoonDogs opened the second half Thursday night with a 5-4 win over Thunder Bay before 942 fans at Mankato’s Franklin Rogers Park.
After destroying Waterloo in a three-game series to finish the first half at 29-7, the MoonDogs stretched their winning streak to 10 games behind Chad Christensen’s two hits and three RBIs. Nick Ratajczak and Chase Fowler chipped in two hits apiece while closer Patrick Goelz earned his league-leading 10th saves despite a rocky final frame.
“You’re not going to win every game 12-3 or 10-4,” MoonDogs’ manager Mike Orchard said. “We didn’t execute particularly well down the stretch, but good teams have some luck at times.
“We were fortunate at the end. Chase threw it right on the base and then we got a couple of line outs. ... But I am not going to apologize for it.”
Orchard was referring to the final three outs after Goelz replaced Mankato’s third pitcher of the game, Derek Howell, who got the final two outs of the eighth. Trailing 5-3, Justin Higley’s monstrous blast over the center-field fence pulled the Border Cats (16-20) within a run.
Goelz then hit Matt Jones before No. 9 hitter Payden Cawley Lamb lined a single into left-center field. Jones wandered too far off second base and Fowler fired a bullet to shortstop Drew Stankiewicz for the first out. Goelz then walked Omar Cotto before a pair of line outs ended things.
“I just saw the guy break, and I knew Stank would be backing up so I just gave it a whirl,” Fowler said. “They’d been dancing around out there the whole game, so I gave it a try and got it. We come to the field every day believing we can win and tonight we just gutted it out.”
Mankato took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first off Border Cats starter Dan Ludwig, who allowed eight hits over seven innings. Nick Ratajczak singled, and Fowler reached when Ratajczak slid safely into second base on a infield roller. After a double steal, Chase Simpson drove in a run with an infield out and Christensen followed with an RBI single.
After Patrick Gallagher’s RBI double sliced the deficit to 3-1 in the fourth, back-to-back base hits from Fowler and Simpson set up Christensen’s run-scoring infield out. Christensen’s RBI single in the bottom of the fifth stretched the MoonDogs’ lead to 5-1 before the Cats got an RBI triple from Cotto in the seventh and a solo home run from Scott Donley an inning later.
“We made some good plays all over the field tonight,” Christensen said. “It’s different people coming through every day and we’re on a real roll right now. It seems like we have good energy and that seems to keep us going. We’ve had solid pitching and defense all year and it all starts there.”
Donley led an 11-hit Border Cats’ attack with three hits. Davis Henderson picked up the victory for the MoonDogs, giving up six hits over five innings.
The two teams play again at 7 p.m. today at Franklin Rogers Park.
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