MANKATO — A new-look Mankato MoonDogs baseball team continued its sluggish play over the past two weeks Monday night at Franklin Rogers Park as Duluth pounded the ’Dogs 17-6 before a crowd of 1,491.
Mankato, which captured the Northwoods League North Division first-half title with a sparkling 28-7 record, stumbled for the 10th time in 11 games to sink to 11-18 in the second half. Duluth (35-29 overall, 16-14 in second half) smacked 21 hits off a quartet of recently signed MoonDogs.
Mankato’s second-half woes have opened the door for Willmar to still gain the home-field advantage in next week’s best-of-three series. The Stingers hold a one game lead over Alexandria with six games remaining and trail the MoonDogs’ for the best overall record in the North by one game.
Duluth scored two runs in each of the first three inning before a defensive gem by third baseman Trey Vavra in the bottom of the seventh turned back a ‘Dogs surge and set up an eight-run burst by the Huskies in the eighth.
Trailing 7-5 after Chase Simpson’s double and a pair of walks loaded the bases with one out, Vavra made a diving snag of Chad Christensen’s bullet over third base. Vavra tagged the base with the ball from a prone position and then fired a strike to double up Christensen at first base.
Duluth then erupted for eight hits in the top of the eighth to keep their division title hopes alive. Connor Joes’ two-run double was the big hit in the surge while Paul Karmeris, Michael Suiter and Austin Dubberly added RBI base hits.
James Ramsey ripped four hits for the Huskies and drove in two runs. Karmeris, Wade Wass and Dubberly each collected three hits in the rout. Karmeris and Connor Szczerba scored three times each for the winners, who also received two hits each from Szczerba and Suiter.
Mankato, which totaled eight hits off five Huskies’ pitchers, committed five errors in the contest compared to none for Duluth. Third baseman Danny Murphy (Jefferson Community College) led the “Dogs with three hits and two runs scored. Craig Massoni (Chabot College) belted a solo home run to right-center field in the third frame.
Left-hander Max McNabb (San Diego) improved to 4-3 on the season, allowing four runs on four hits over 52/3 innings. He struck out five, walked two and hit two batters. The MoonDogs struck out nine times in the game and left 10 runners on base.
The two teams meet again today in a 7:05 p.m. start at Franklin Rogers Park.