The Mankato MoonDogs clinched their third Northwoods League North Division first-half title in the past four years Monday night by pounding St. Cloud 8-3 before 927 fans at Franklin Rogers Park.
Mankato (22-9) wasted little time in taking charge against the River Bats, who had won seven of their last 10 games coming in. Nick Judkins’ slicing opposite-field double down the left-field line ignited a four-run first-inning burst that included two River Bats’ errors along with a run-scoring single from James Roberts (USC).
Judkins, who played on the MoonDogs playoff team two years ago, ended up 3 for 4 with a walk and a pair of RBIs. Lead-off hitter Brennan Moore (Texas Tech) ripped two hits and scored three runs for the ’Dogs, who also received two hits from recently-arrived Sam Lind (Vanderbilt).
“It’s a good feeling to have it out of the way so now we can go to work and get better as a team” Judkins, a utility infielder from Creighton said. “We’ve been able to hit the ball hard all year and out pitchers give us a chance every time out. We just keep the momentum going and not let off the gas pedal.”
While Mankato’s offense banged out 12 hits off three River Bat pitchers, MoonDogs’ starter Jordan Remer (San Francisco) turned in a solid effort. The left-hander, who entered the game off two sub-par starts, allowed only one unearned run on two hits in 7 1/3 innings. He struck out six and walked five to even his record at 2-2.
“This was a great opportunity for me,” Remer said. “I settled down early and didn’t try to over throw. I let my stuff take over and just tried to pound the middle of the strike zone.”
Mankato extended its lead to 5-0 in its second at bat when Moore and Judkins laced back-to-back singles and Moore scored on a double-steal. Three straight two-out hits — Lind, Joe Loftus and Zak Wasserman — produced a fourth-inning run.
Judkins’ RBI single in the seventh made it 8-1 before Mitchell Garver’s two-run homer off MoonDogs’ reliever Josh Dahl closed out the scoring.
“We got off to that good start and that kind of propelled us in the first half,” MoonDogs’ manager Mike Orchard said of his club’s 5-0 start. “We’ve got things we can do better and I look for guys to improve on different parts of their game.”
Lind, who played in just his fifth game since returning from the College World Series, likes what he sees from this year’s team.
“I think this is a quality team,” he said. “We’ve got some good talent and the chemistry is really good. I envisioned coming in here and getting a few hits to get my teammates to like me right away.”
Mankato plays today at St. Cloud.