The climate to start Sunday night’s Northwoods League game and the bats for the Thunder Bay Border Cats were both scorching.
But the bats for the Loggers heated up gradually and then ignited in the ninth with a Ryan Mantle walk-off home run as La Crosse prevailed 9-8 in a thriller in front of 2,255 at Copeland Park.
The Loggers had rallied in the seventh inning to tie the game at 7, but after a scoreless eighth, the Border Cats awoke in the ninth to retake the lead.
With sidearm-throwing Charlie Fletcher throwing for the Loggers, Thunder Bay had runners on second and third with two outs. Braden Mosley grounded a ball hard to the left side, which Loggers shortstop Sage Bruhl backhanded, but was unable to make the throw to first, allowing Colin Rosenbaum to score the go-ahead run.
In the ninth, after two quick outs and with a nearly silent Copeland Park crowd, Kennie Taylor singled to keep things alive and put the tying run on base. On an 0-2 pitch in the next at-bat, Mantle put the ball over the left field to win it for La Crosse (4-9).
“I just wanted to make sure I had a good at-bat,” Taylor said of his game-extending hit. “I thought it (Mantle’s walk-off) had a good chance off the bat, with this wind. Anything that gets up there has a chance.”
The win, the Loggers second in a row, marking the team’s first winning streak of the season, only increases the confidence Taylor has in the guys in La Crosse’s dugout.
“I know we got off to a slow start, but I feel like we’re starting to really gel together,” he said. “We got a lot of great guys on this team.”
Thunder Bay leadoff hitter Gabe Lozada took two pitches before roping a double to left field to open the game. Following a walk and a wild pitch, cleanup hitter Noah Strohl came to the plate and hit a three-run home run to put the Border Cats up 3-0 after their first four at-bats.
Grant Judkins put the Loggers on the board in the second with a lead-off solo homer, but the Thunder Bay (5-7) offense struck again in the third inning. After a double by Rosenbaum, Strohl picked up his fourth RBI when he followed with another double. Strohl was then knocked in by a single by Jared McCunn, making it 5-1.
La Crosse starter and left-hander Jason Seever only lasted three innings, giving up five runs on six hits and striking out five. Nate Garley entered in relief for Seever, and fared slightly better — giving up two runs on three hits. The only bright spot for Loggers’ (4-9) pitching was Andrew Owen, who entered the game in the seventh and pitched two efficient innings. Aside from an error, Owen retired the other six batters he faced.
Catcher Korey Lee hit another solo shot for the Loggers in the fifth to cut the deficit to three. But in line with all comeback efforts by La Crosse to that point, it was met with a quick rebuttal from Thunder Bay, this time in the form of a two-run home run from Rosenbaum in the sixth.
After Border Cats’ starter Michael Bohlke was relieved by another right-hander Evan Johnson, La Crosse’s offense came alive. Yahir Gurrola drew a leadoff walk and Korey Lee singled to put runners on first and third with nobody out. Gurrola then scored when Thunder Bay catcher Nick Ciandro had a fastball pop out of his glove and roll to the backstop. After a walk and a strikeout, Garrett Christman got the Loggers within a run after hitting a three-run shot over the right-field wall.
In the following at-bat in the seventh, Taylor — playing in his second game with the Loggers — ripped a double down the line, looking to ignite another rally as the tying run. Taylor then took advantage of Johnson’s unhurried delivery to the plate and stole third with ease. The stolen bag turned out to be crucial when Mantle hit into a fielder’s choice in the next at-bat to tie the game at 7.