MANKATO — Leading up to the Northwoods League Home Run Challenge on Monday, there weren’t players on the Great Plains’ side lining up to hit last.
Given the head-to-head team-scoring format, there was a distinct possibility the team’s fate would come down to the final hitter needing to reach a certain number, a situation that would come with a lot of pressure.
“A lot of guys didn’t want to be last,” the Mankato MoonDogs’ Matt Higgins said. “I was a little nervous at first, but then I figured ‘yeah, it’s going to give me a good target to go after. I know what I need to do for my team and I know what I need to do for myself.’”
Sure enough, the man who leads the Northwoods League in RBIs and has become a bit of a local celebrity this summer came to the plate knowing exactly what he needed.
Eight to tie and nine to win.
Ten homers later, the legend of “Higgy” continues to grow.
“That guy is absolutely electric. If there’s any tough situation we have in a game, I want him up,” said MoonDogs’ Cole Andavolgyi, who hit seven homers in the competition. “I knew he was going to win it when he came up.”
The Great Plains downed the Great Lakes 69-67, while the Lakeshore Chinook’s Griffin Doersching won the individual competition in the Northwoods League Home Run Challenge on Monday night at ISG Field.
All players started their respective rounds with 2:30 on the clock and were granted one 30-second timeout that could be used at any time during the round. If a player hit at least two consecutive home runs at any time, they were granted an extra 30 seconds.
The challenge featured 18 players — nine from the Great Plains and nine from the Great Lakes.
Due to the time limit, hitters weren’t going to be able to take many pitches, so having a good pitcher was going to be crucial.
Bethany Lutheran baseball coach Ryan Kragh helped coach the MoonDogs earlier in the season, and his batting-practice pitching was a big hit — especially with Higgins.
“I texted him after he got announced and said ‘you want me to throw,’ and he said ‘hell, yeah,’” Kragh said.
As Kragh pounded the middle-in location that he and Higgins had discussed, Higgins launched several long homers and came up just short on numerous occasions.
The hometown crowd was in a frenzy throughout, especially as the clock expired with the score appearing to be tied at 67.
However, upon further review, Higgins was officially credited with nine homers in his regular round, eventually adding a mammoth shot in his extra 30 seconds to cap the special night.
After the game, Higgins was mobbed by kids for autographs, while other fans approached him for pictures or to offer their congratulations.
When the Louisville, Kentucky, native came up to Minnesota from Bellarmine University, he was hoping to improve his game, just like all Northwoods League players.
However, it’s turned into a summer he’ll never forget.
“When everybody started clapping and got on their feet, it gave me goosebumps walking to the plate,” Higgins said. “All I can do is just smile and enjoy the moment ...
“I was expecting a good summer, but I could’ve never dreamed of something this sweet.”
Follow Kevin Dudley on Twitter @Dudley7Kevin.