By Lance Jones
JJ Rollon (Pima CC-AZ) had one job. Pinch run and score. Job complete. He was the runner chosen to take second as the international tiebreaker runner in the tenth to run for Ryne Edmondson (Houston Baptist). A game which seen the Thunder Bay Border Cats come back from an early two run deficit to win 3-2 over the Eau Claire Express was both weird and tension filled.
Thunder Bay’s players which for some reason were shut out of the Major League Dreams Showcase made the best of a situation but not without more adversity thrown in.
First difficulty, Eau Claire was in town and they had won the opening two games of the four game series. Plus they have owned the Cats in the season series having won eight of ten meetings. The Express train got chugging in the first. With Brock Burton (Grand Canyon) aboard after a walk by Border Cat Starter Alex Dafoe (Friends University-KS) it took some two out magic to get him home. A single from Vincent Martinez (Stanford) continued the inning. David LaManna (Notre) drove in Burton to make it 1-0.
Brandon Dieter (Stanford) would keep it rolling with his second home run, of the solo variety to make it 2-0.
Further harsh conditions and tension were chucked in, in the third inning. Border Cats Manager Eric Vasquez was thrown out completely inexplicably. After a player said something on the way to the dugout, things escalated in a hurry as the home plate umpire got into a shouting match towards the Border Cat dugout. Vasquez came bolting out from the clubhouse to ease the shenanigans and quiet the situation. Then as the umpire was taking notes and Vasquez was taking his stroll back to the dugout, a clear word from someone in the stands seen the Manager thrown out in a real bizarre result to a peculiar situation.
The Cats would make the Skipper proud as the comeback was on in the fourth. Anthony Galati (Radford University-VA) got aboard on one of six walks issued by Eau Claire Starter Nick Alvarado (Illinois-Springfield). Galati stole second despite a major league throw from LaManna. He moved to station three after a ground out. And an Alvarado wild pitch allowed Galati home as his travails around the horn cut the deficit to 2-1.
Thunder Bay then put in some two-out labor to tie it in the fifth. Joe Jimenez (Chapman University-CA) walked for a second time on the day. Another free pass to Karsten Vasquez (College of San Mateo-CA) put two on. Galati made it all square with a line drive to centre to bring home Jimenez from second.
Eau Claire had a few more chances then the Border Cats to win it before the end of regulation.
Border Cat Reliever Jordan Jackson (Nevada-Reno) had a key pickoff in the eighth and killed the Express momentum of what was looking like a promising situation for the Express with runners on the corners and one out.
Thunder Bay could not score a leadoff single from Edmondson in the seventh. And Conor Allard (Nevada-Reno) was snake bitten the next inning. He was doubled off of second after getting aboard on a one out double (tenth of the season). A liner back to Express Reliever Jack Brown (Minnesota State-Mankato) and a quick turn and throw to second seen Allard in the most unfortunate of situations.
The tenth was wild. With the given runner at second as part of the International Tiebreaker rule the Northwoods League has gone to, Aaron Kern (Minot State) got a major strikeout on a wild pitch to league leading hitter Matt Bottcher (Illinois-Chicago), however with the ball far away from Jimenez, Bottcher reached. Kern got a little help from Martinez who hit one back to him on a ground out. An intentional walk of LaManna loaded up the pond. And it was Nick Marinconz’s (Cal Poly) turn to become stricken with bad luck. A screaming liner off the bat was snatched on a beautiful bit of base hit theft from Jordan Larson (Northern Illinois) who immediately doubled off LaManna to give the Cats a chance with a runner.
And Thunder Bay did not need a hit to win it. Enter Rollon at second. Nate Soriano came up with a key sacrifice to move Rollon to third. It gave the Cats multiple ways to win. Jimenez’s fly ball to centre was not deep enough. However the first pitch to Vasquez from Brown squirted through the five hole of LaManna and Rollon made a dash and dive for home to score the winner.
Kern, thrown in a tough situation, took the win to go to 2-3. Brown took an unlucky loss to drop to 2-2.
Eau Claire (11-6), hunting for a playoff spot finds themselves tied with the Duluth Huskies for the division lead. Thunder Bay playing spoiler move to 3-14. The Express turn to Craig Colen, the Cal Poly Junior who takes a 2-1 record to the mound on Tuesday night. Thunder Bay will turn to All-Star Joe Moran (Anderson University-IN) who looks to rebound from his first loss of the season in his last start. First pitch is slated for 7:05pm from Port Arthur Stadium. It is Toonie Tuesday with $2 Kids Tickets, $2 Pizza Slices and $2 Pop.