Johnny Hernandez says it doesn’t matter how many times one gets knocked down. It matters only how often one gets back up on their feet.
His Thunder Bay Border Cats have been flattened plenty this season. But they’ve proven to be a resilient bunch, despite a 6-17 record heading into Friday’s home-stand opener against the visiting Mankato Moon Dogs.
Beset with five straight losses and down 5-0 after a Brett Synek deposited a Gunnar Kay pitch into the dog park beyond the right-field fence in the fourth, the Cats refused to quit. They clawed back with runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth, erupted for four in the eighth and then hung on for a 7-6 triumph.
“We’re getting a lot better as a team, said third baseman Adam Collins, who went 3-for-4, drove in the first run of the decisive eighth and scored what proved to be the winning run on the back end of a double steal.
“We played together as a team much better. The five-game skid right there was rough on the road. It was raining a lot. But right now we’re just glad to be home and we’re going to get it together.”
It wasn’t any one big bat that did the damage with the game on the line. Down to their second-last at bat, the Cats loaded the bases against Moon Dogs reliever Austin Warner, chasing him with one out in the eighth.
Jacob Westerhouse was brought on to end the threat, but Collins beat out a close play at first that allowed Tyler Rolland to score, closing the gap to one. Pinch hitter Sal Taormina was brought on to bat for light-hitting shortstop Jordan Serena, a move that proved prophetic on Hernandez’s part.
Taormina ripped a shot off the glove of Mankato shortstop Peter Maris, scoring Cory Kay and Tyler Patterson to give the Cats their first lead of the night.
“He’s been swinging the bat pretty good. I just thought it was the right time to get him an at bat there and it worked out,” Hernandez said.
It wasn’t the best of outings for the rookie Kay, who left with two outs in the fifth, having surrendered five runs on six hits and four free passes.
But reliever Ben Allison, making just his second appearance out of the bullpen after a four-start stint in the rotation, allowed just two hits in three-plus innings of work, allowing the Cats ample time to claw their way back into contention.
“Baseball’s a crazy game. Sometimes your starter goes out there and gives you seven. Today it was a shaky start and the bullpen gave us tremendous support,” Hernandez said.
Warner was tagged with the loss, his first.
Allison earned his first Northwoods League triumph for his effort, with the save going to Devin McLemore, who had blown his last two opportunities and allowed the Moon Dogs to creep within a run on a Maris RBI single.
Kyle Hann and Nick Studer also drove in runs for the Cats, who will take on Mankato Saturday at 6:05 p.m. at Port Arthur Stadium.
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