MANKATO — The play might get lost in an 8-1 victory, but Mankato MoonDogs’ starter Kyle McGrath was in a tough spot in the first inning.
Three straight singles, none of which left the infield, had loaded the bases with one out, and St. Cloud was in the fifth spot in the batting order. A hit here, and the home team is probably down two, with maybe more to come.
But McGrath got a grounder to third, which Drew Stankiewicz grabbed to start a double play, and McGrath had wiggled out of trouble and into the dugout.
“I wasn’t really concerned,” the lefty said. “They had just hit a couple in the right place where we couldn’t get them. But that double play was huge. It was a great turn (by the middle infielders), awesome. It’s nice to have good defense behind me.”
McGrath allowed only one run in 5 2/3 scoreless inning to highlight a seven-run victory over St. Cloud, completing the sweep of Northwoods League baseball games Friday at Franklin Rogers Park. It appears in the scorebook as an easy victory, but things could have been different without that first-inning double play, one of two turned by the MoonDogs in the game.
“When we’re right, we’re pretty good defensively in the infield,” MoonDogs manager Mike Orchard said. “(Second baseman Nick) Ratajczak turns the double play as good as anybody in the league so when I saw him get the ball, I felt pretty good.”
The MoonDogs jumped ahead 6-0 in the first inning, combining four singles and two walks with a couple of infield errors. Blair Moore, Chad Christensen, Trever Allen and Stankiewicz each had an RBI.
Stankiewicz’s sacrifice fly added to the lead in the third inning. In the fourth, Chase Fowler lined a homer to right that likely dented the scoreboard.
McGrath allowed five hits and three walks with seven strikeouts, while Trey Nielsen finished the seven -inning game with one hit and two strikeouts.
“Kyle is improving every time out,” Orchard said. “It’s exciting to see his progress.”
McGrath, who redshirted this season after transferring from Eastern Kentucky to Louisville, said he’s getting stronger with each outing, throwing 105 pitches Friday.
“This is my season after not playing,” he said. “I’m getting my command back, and I’m heading in the right direction. I feel great.”
The MoonDogs opened the night by finishing Thursday’s game, which was suspended in the fourth inning because of heavy rain. The MoonDogs won 3-0, using a two-out single by Allen to score in the fifth inning and a two-out, two-run triple by Stankiewicz in the sixth.
Adam Mott pitched the first four innings Thursday, allowing one hit, and Zach Hall pitched four scoreless innings Friday to get the win. Despite giving up two walks, Patrick Goelz got through the ninth for his fourth save and completed the shutout.
The MoonDogs (12