Nineteen hits and a dozen runs is usually enough to win a Northwoods League contest.
“Not when the other team gets 21 hits,” said beleaguered Border Cats manager Johnny Hernandez on Saturday night, after watching his squad waste an 8-1 second-inning lead and fall 15-12 to the visiting Rochester Honkers in 13 innings.
Jordan Smith delivered the big blow in the top of the 13th, a two-out, bases-loaded single off a tiring Ben Allison that scored a pair of Honkers with what proved to be the winning runs and led to Thunder Bay's third straight defeat.
Smith, Rochester’s No. 9 hitter, had three hits in seven at bats on the night, and said after nine hours on the road to get to Port Arthur Stadium, not to mention playing extra innings the night before, he and his teammates just wanted the game to end.
He was only too glad to help it happen.
“It feels pretty good. That pitcher that I got that last hit off of, he got me pretty good the first two times and I kind of had a feeling he was going to come with a fastball and I just put a good swing on it,” said Smith, who was hitting just .223 entering what proved to be a four-hour contest.
It was a wild one from start to finish.
Thunder Bay’s Robb Paller started the offensive onslaught with a solo shot in the first, his team-leading seventh of 2014.
After giving one back, the Cats’ bats exploded in the second off Rochester starter Ryan Bower, who wouldn’t escape the inning.
Ty Blankmeyer doubled to score Christian Correa with the go-ahead run. After Jordan Serena was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Cory Kay singled to score two more.
Tyler Rolland added another two-run single and it appeared the rout was on.
Not so fast, said the Honkers.
Along came the fourth, which proved to be the downfall of Border Cats starter Charles Thielmann.
With two out and two on, Rochester began its rally in earnest, Ryan Boldt singling home Blaise Lezynski. The Honkers rolled off four more hits before Thielmann was lifted in favour of Michael Daley, victim of a passed ball before finally ending the inning on a Travis Hill lineout, trailing 9-8.
The Cats retook an 11-9 lead in the fifth on a Kay double that scored a pair and added another on a Sal Taormina double in the sixth.
But the lead was short-lived.
Rochester pulled to within a run in the seventh and tied it 12-12 in the eighth when Casey Fletcher singled to score Ryne Roper.
Thunder Bay had runners in scoring position in both the 10th and 11th, but couldn’t deliver. That set the stage for the Honkers in the 13th.
Roper led off with a single. His brother Reid attempted to bunt him to second, but Allison, who took the loss after 5.2 innings of mostly stellar relief, grabbed the ball and promptly threw it into centre, attempting to catch the lead runner.
With Honkers on second and third and two out, Smith came through.
“I might have left Ben in there a little too long,” said Hernandez. “But it is what it is. You blow an 8-1 lead, that’s baseball.”
Three innings of no-hit, shutout ball earned the win for Rochester reliever Carl Jameson (3-1). Allison dropped to 3-5.
The Cats record dropped to 3-13 in second-half play. Rochester improved to 8-10. The two teams will wrap up their two-game set on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 5:05 p.m.
Cat tracks: Pitcher Zach Morganstern was taken to hospital prior to the game suffering from an unknown illness. Add in the fact Hernandez left one of his pitchers off the game-sheet, making him ineligible to play, and the Cats’ bullpen had two fewer arms than planned … Attendance was 511.
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