THUNDER BAY -- For most of the season the Thunder Bay Border Cats have struggled to have all facets of their game work in harmony, costing the club wins.
That trend continued Saturday night as their season continues to wind down.
The Border Cats fell heartbreakingly short in their penultimate game on the Northwoods League calendar, dropping a 4-3 decision to the Wisconsin Woodchucks at Port Arthur Stadium.
Veteran outfielder Cory Kay, who is one game away from completing his third and final campaign with the club, said the team is determined to give everything they have in the final home stand.
“Now with only one game left you really want to go out with a bang,” he said after the game. “(Saturday) we played great, we just didn’t come out on top.”
For all but the top half of the second, where the Border Cats gave up three runs, Thunder Bay (9-27, 23-48) played one of their most complete outings of the season.
“Every game has been that one thing, that one pitch or that one time we couldn’t get a runner in,” Kay said.
“We’ve been right there all season.”
Starting hurler Gunnar Kay (L, 2-4) ran into bad luck on the mound, as he gave up four runs on six hits, though none of the hits were for extra bases.
It was a night where the balls found their way through the infield.
“I didn’t have my best stuff but it wasn’t bad by any means,” he said. “I was able to execute my pitches and get a lot of one and two pitch outs.”
The righty ran into trouble in the second inning, as the Woodchucks were able to take advantage of a leadoff hit and follow through.
Zach Arnold and Derek Peake hit consecutive run-scoring singles to put the visitors ahead, before Taylor Kohlwey brought a third runner across the plate with an infield single.
Thunder Bay started to rebound in the bottom half the inning, scoring a run on a groundout by Tyler Patterson. However they stranded a runner at third after Cory Kay was caught in a rundown on a steal attempt.
The Border Cats brought the game even in the next inning, scoring after an error by Woodchucks pitcher Andy Ravel and then the tying run on a Nick Studer groundout.
After Wisconsin retook the lead with Arnold’s second-run scoring hit of the game, Thunder Bay looked to tie it back up again but Cory Kay was gunned out on a close play at home.
“I thought I got in there, to be honest,” he said. “We had other opportunities to score and we just couldn’t get it done.”
The bullpens for both teams played to a stalemate the rest of the way, shutting down each sides’ bats.
His brother believes Gunnar Kay, who exited the game in the sixth with elbow discomfort, deserved a better outcome.
“He pitched well. I thought we pitched well enough to win the game,” Kay said.
Despite the team’s struggles in the win-loss column, there has been some on-field successes. First and foremost, the goal of the league is to develop the talent of players and provide them with experience to reach the next level.
Manager Johnny Hernandez said one of the biggest lessons has been how to persevere through adversity.
“We just talk about going out there and competing and they’ve done a tremendous job of that,” he said. “I don’t know how many games out we are but we’re going out there and competing every night.”
Despite the grinding travel schedule there are still players spending hours preparing for each game, whether it be taking extra batting practice or working with coaches on fine tuning mechanics.
Hernandez still sees players taking the field every night trying to be the best ballplayers they can be.
“The only way you get better in this game is by playing. The only way you learn the game and really hone those skills is by playing,” he said.
One player who has really benefitted from the summer baseball is Gunnar Kay.
Kay, who entered the league after his freshman season at Dallas Baptist University, said the season has completely changed how he approaches his craft.
“I’ve learned how to pitch. In high school, I could get away with throwing an 85-mile-per-hour fastball down the middle 80 per cent of the time,” Kay said.
“In college, and this league, you can’t do that or it will get hit out of the park. I’ve learned now to mix up pitches and change speeds to keep hitters off balance.”
Claw marks: Attendance was announced at 1,151…Hernandez watched the contest from the press box, serving the second of a two-game suspension for being ejected in the team’s 7-6 win over the St. Cloud Rox on Thursday…Slugger Rob Paller enters the team’s final contest tied with Tyler Duplantis for the single-season franchise home run record at nine. Duplantis set the mark last season…Sunday’s game is scheduled for a 5:05 p.m. start.
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