By Reece Hemmesch Special to The Free Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — Trying to expand their win streak to four, the MoonDogs came up short Thursday night to the Alexandria Blue Anchors, losing 5-2 at Franklin Rogers Park.
Though the Blue Anchors hold the worst overall record in the Northwoods League, Alexandria showed off its second-best team batting average in the league, coming up with hits at the most opportune time to earn its second win of the second half. The loss drops the 'Dogs to 5-3 in their second half campaign.
Despite the setback, improvement has definitely been made in the MoonDogs quality of play.
“It’s overall better baseball, better relief pitching for one and we’ve been pretty offensive until tonight so just tightening everything up,” manager Mike Orchard said. “We can be a decent team at times and we can also show the ugly side too.”
MoonDogs starting pitcher Jesse Esquibel did a good job early of keeping the Blue Anchors from crossing the plate, Alexandria broke through in the third inning with an RBI groundout from Michael Barash.
Meanwhile, Alexandria starter Hunter Newman was strong in his six innings pitched, surrendering five hits and striking out seven to earn his first win of the season.
“He had some good stuff,” Mankato outfielder Quinnton Mack said. “He had a nice curve ball and slider but we ended up starting to piece some stuff up out of nowhere and had some good hits up there.”
Barash continued his barrage in the fifth inning with an RBI double off Esquibel to make it 2-0. Alexandria posted another run in the sixth but the MoonDogs answered back with a pair of doubles from Zach Zehner and Mack to make it a two-run ballgame. Mack finished the game 2 for 4.
From there Barash again harassed the 'Dogs with his bat, this time in the seventh inning and resulting in a two-run homer just over the left field fence to bring the score to 5-1.
The MoonDogs looked as if a comeback was possible in the ninth after gaining a run to cut the lead to three. It came down to two on, two out with Chase Simpson, the team leader in home runs, at the plate. But Blue Anchor reliever Scott Sanderson forceed a groundout from Simpson to end the game.
The MoonDogs totaled nine hits, but could not find the big one to earn the sweep over the Blue Anchors, leaving 11 runners on base.
“We just could not get the last hit. We had guys on base almost every inning but we just could not finish it off,” Mack said. “We hit the ball hard every single time, every at bat but it just didn’t fall for us today.”
Orchard agreed: “We gave away some at bats in the beginning. Then we had a big inning (in the fifth) with first and second nobody out, but ended up strikeout, fly out and strikeout which was really a swing inning.”
Six MoonDogs tallied hits in the loss, including Mack and Zehner, who each doubled and brought in Mankato’s two runs.
The MoonDogs now get set to host the Duluth Huskies today and Saturday night as both teams are in the top half of the North Division of the Northwoods League. The Huskies leapfrogged the MoonDogs in the standings column with a win Thursday night and are continuing their respectable play from the first half.
“They’re playing well too so it will be a good two-game series at home,” Orchard said. “We’ve played okay on the road but now it’s time to play a little better at home.”