On a scoreboard filled with ones, two and threes it was the home team who added up to three more as the Thunder Bay Border Cats defeated the first-place Eau Claire Express 11-8.
Winners of two-straight games, Thunder Bay improved to 4-14 in the second half of the Northwoods League season (18-35 overall) and now embarks on a seven-day eight-game road trip with a day off today.
Eau Claire falls to 11-7 after splitting the series.
Catcher Alex Hernandez was the offensive star for Thunder Bay, adding a two-run eighth-inning homerun to left centre to his two-run single in the third inning. Hernandez and Joe Jimenez also put a crimp in Eau Claire’s base stealers during the four-game series.
“At (1 p.m., 1:30 p.m.) we get here every day with coach Hunt and work, work, work on our swings,” said Hernandez. “I know this summer is to prepare me for college and hopefully pro ball. . . . I knew once I got ahead in the count they were going to attack me with fastballs. I got it, put a pretty good swing on it.”
Cats starting pitcher Joe Moran left with a 6-5 lead. Thunder Bay added a run in the seventh, three in the eight, while Eau Claire registered solo tallies in the seventh, eighth and ninth. The Cats never relinquished the lead. Tyler Hansen came on to pitch the final two innings to pick up a save, striking out Brock Burton with two runners on base in the ninth.
Eau Claire starter Craig Colen pitched three innings, allowing four earned runs, and got tagged with the loss.
Connor Allard had a pair of doubles while reaching base four times, while Jordan Larson had two singles and two walks. Jakob Newton went 3-5, and JJ Rollon reached base four times as the Cats broke out the bats.
“It’s coach (Grant) Dewitt, it’s coach (Kyle) Hunt. Those two guys come out here and work with the hitters at (11 a.m.) in the morning,” said Cats manager Eric Vasquez, who saw his team pound out 13 hits and a season-high 11 runs. “These guys put in the work for us. The guys give back and it’s kind of nice to see that.”
Moran threw 106 pitches.
“I’m so proud of him. Moran struggled, he didn’t have the command he wanted. Every time he came he said ‘No, I’m back out there, coach,’” Vasquez said of Moran. who allowed four earned runs and four walks. “I was going to pull him in the fifth or sixth cause I knew I had (Tyler) Hansen on the back end. Moran said stretch me out me to a hundred (pitches).”
Conor Allard doubled with two-out in the first and Jordan Larson singled him home as Thunder Bay opened up a 1-0 lead.
The teams exchanged three runs each in the third.
With two outs Eau Claire’s Cole Cabrera drew a walk — his 51st of the season. Burton singled and Matt Bottcher doubled for a run. Cats starter Moran then tossed a wild pitch to send Burton home, and catcher Hernandez’s wild throw to the plate plated Bottcher.
Thunder Bay used three hits and a pair of walks to score three in their half. Allard collected his second double for an RBI and Hernandez had a two-run single.
Four singles produced a pair of runs for the Cats in the fifth.
After taking a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the third Thunder Bay never gave up the lead.
Cole Cabrera reached base four times for Eau Claire to key a 14-hit attack that fell three runs short.
“Our pitching was not very good,” said Eau Claire manager Dale Varsho, who saw his staff walk eight and plunk three batters. “We got some people out of place position-wise. . . . We get out of here to go on our seven-game home stand and do some damage. That’s our plan. Four of those runs they scored on walks, that’s what kills you. Can’t win games like that.”