Brett Kay’s not sure he’s ever seen ballgame end that way.
Now it’s something he’ll never forget.
Moments after hitting a game-tying triple in the bottom of the seventh –and final – inning, Kay raced home from third with the winning run after an intentional walk gone bad by Mankato closer Trevor Belicek.
Belicek, attempting to send Jerrick Suiter and his five-RBI night to first, sailed his first pitch high and off the glove of catcher Andrew Coffman’s glove, handing the Cats an improbable 5-4 win, their franchise record-tying seventh straight triumph.
“I almost fell, to be honest,” said Kay, who was 3-for-3 in the contest, with a pair of triples and two runs scored.
“That’s a great way to end the night, that’s for sure.”
Earlier in the night, on the back of a great pitching performance by Garrett Hughes, the Cats doubled the Moondogs 8-4. The two wins have vaulted Thunder Bay (12-11) into third place in the Northwoods League’s North Division, just two-games behind front-running Willmar.
Ironicallythe first-half champion Moondogs (10-13) had taken the lead in the top of the seventh, snapping a 3-3 when pinch runner Andy Wise, standing on third, stole home when catcher Cory Kay nonchalantly lobbed the ball back to Cats starter James Buckelew.
It’s all forgotten about now, Brett Kay said, the second-year veteran who took it upon himself to cheerlead after the Moondogs went ahead.
“I honestly didn’t even know what happened on the play. But they scored a run and it’s a long day out here. When they score the run, and it’s the last inning, it’s pretty hard to come back and score two to win the game,” he said.
“So I just came back into the dugout and said to the three guys that were going to be up that game, just stay positive and let’s get a couple of hits, get guys on and who knows what can happen. It worked out for us.”
Twice on Monday the Cats trailed ballgames 2-0.
Twice their pitching staff held them in it long enough to rally back from the deficit.
In the opener, the Border Cats sent nine men to the plate in the third, Suiter striking a bases-loaded double down the left-field line that scored Patrick Gallagher and Phillip Lyons to tie the game 2-2. Adam Landecker and Andrew Ayers, hit by a pitch by Mankato starter Boomer Scarborough with the bases full, also drove in runs to give the Cats a 4-2 advantage.
They added four more in the fourth, another Suiter two-run double the key blow, giving Hughes all the runs he’d need for his second win of the campaign.
It was the Cats fielding that cost them early in Game 2. Already down 2-0, Lyons made Thunder Bay’s fourth error of the game in the third, allowing Nick Ratajczak to plate the Moondogs third run of the game.
But with their offence in full gear and Buckelew, who went the distance to earn his first complete game and third win, settling in, the Cats calmly rallied with three of their own in the bottom half of the inning. Danny Bethea’s looper to short right fell in, with Lyons and Kay racing around the base paths to even the score.
Judkins, who gave Buckelew (3-3) the chance to opt out in the seventh, with Jordan McCoy warmed and ready to step in, said he and his players are enjoying the ride. But Buckelew had told Judkins before the game he was going seven, and that was good enough for the skipper.
It may not have been the best baseball decision, but it worked. That’s the difference these days.
“Yeah, it was fun,” he said afterward. “It’s different mentality in the dugout and they’re enjoying each other. And you’re seeing some guys step up who didn’t really play well maybe in the first half. Now you’re seeing good team baseball. We’re getting good pitching and guys are making plays when they have to.
“We’re getting an all-out team effort, and that’s all that matters.”
Claw marks: A slightly injured left shoulder forced Judkins to scratch CF Omar Cotto before the opener, but it’s nothing serious, the rookie manager said … Zak Miller, who was scheduled to start on Monday, will instead take the mound on Tuesday, as the series against Mankato continues … Attendance was just 704.
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