THUNDER BAY – After being snubbed earlier in the day by the Northwoods League, the Thunder Bay Border Cats were playing with a chip on their shoulders.
Not a single player from the team was chosen to play in upcoming Major League Dreams Showcase and manager Eric Vasquez said they wanted to prove to the powers that be that at least a few of them belonged in the mix.
“We talked about it and I used the analogy of otters. When otters sleep, they interlock arms, so nobody drifts away. I said, ‘We can’t drift away right now. We’ve got to stay together. And they did,” Vasquez said.
Starter Alex Dafoe, who gave up a run in the first and a one-out solo home run to Brandon Dieter in the second, settled down after that, allowing just six more base runners over the next five innings, allowing the Cats to even the score with runs in the fifth and sixth and win it 3-2 over the Eau Claire Express in the 10th, newcomer J.J. Rollon racing home on a two-out wild pitch to help the Cats snap a four-game losing streak.
“You saw Alex throw,” Vasquez said. “He wanted to prove something.”
It was an all-around effort, though the offence did struggle at times hitting against Eau Claire starter Nick Alvarado, who allowed just two hits over six innings, but did walk six Thunder Bay batters.
The defence in particular was stellar.
Border Cats right-fielder Anthony Galati gunned down Matt Bottcher at the plate to end the third and in the 10th 1B Jordan Larson stabbed a bases-loaded bullet off the bat of Nick Marinconz and calmly stepped on the bag to double up David LaManna.
It helped save reliever Aaron Kern’s bacon, after a dropped third strike on a wild pitch left runners on the corner with no out in the top of the 10th.
“If he doesn’t catch that, it’s three runs. Finally some things go our way. It was right to him and he stepped on the bag and then we come up and score,” said Galati, who scored the Cats first run in the fourth, walking and later crossing the plate on an Alvarado wild pitch.
He tied the game in the fifth, singling in Joe Jimenez from second.
“It was really good, especially, to grind it out, because things haven’t been going our way and finally things did go our way and we can maybe we can build on that tomorrow,” Galati said.
They wouldn’t have had a chance if it wasn’t for Dafoe, he added.
“Dafoe’s been a part of (this team) since the very beginning and he’s one of our leaders and we weren’t going to let him lose that game,” Galati said.
Rollon, on the other hand, had only three games under his belt heading into Monday’s contest, played in front of 758 fans at Port Arthur Stadium.
On top of that, he wasn’t even in the starting lineup, instead held back until the 10th, when he took over as a pinch runner for Ryne Edmondson, placed on second under the league’s new extra-inning rules.
He took third on a Nate Soriano bunt and after holding on Jimenez’s shallow pop-up to centre, scampered home on Jack Brown’s wild pitch, the only miscue of his 2.1-inning outing.
“Once that 10th inning came, I just told the coach I was good to run. I wanted to help the team out somehow. He told me to be ready to run and once we shut them down he told me to get out there and get that run,” said Rollon, who slid head first into home plate to win the game.
The Border Cats are 3-14, last in the Great Plains East. The Express (11-6) slipped back into a first-place tie with Duluth, who scored six in the eighth on Monday to outlast Bismarck 13-8.
Thunder Bay and Eau Claire wrap up their four-game series on Tuesday night. Game time is 7:05 p.m.