The second half of the season has been a struggle so far for the Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers.
They faced the Thunder Bay Border Cats on Monday night hoping to avoid a sweep and a three-game losing streak.
The Lunkers responded with a five-run sixth inning and salvaged the final game of the series by beating Thunder Bay 9-4 to even their second-half record at 3-3.
Steve Brault went 2-5 with a double, home run and two RBIs, while Tyler Sparger came on to pitch 2.1 innings of relief to get his fourth win.
Lunkers’ head coach Ryan Levendoski sent All Star pitcher Joe Willman to the mound to face the Border Cats Casey Selsor. Willman came into Monday’s game with a 4-0 record and a minuscule ERA of 0.75.
Willman immediately got into trouble in the first inning as he loaded the bases before striking out Evan Weibel to end the inning. Then in the second inning, Willman gave up back-to-back doubles to Ino Patron and Mike Hubbard, who would both come into score to give the Border Cats a 2-0 lead.
The Lunkers responded with two runs in the bottom of the second and two runs in the bottom of the third to take a 4-2 lead.
Jon Crist walked to lead off the bottom of the second and Hunter Adrian hit what looked to be a double play ball to Thunder Bay’s Cullen Mahoney. Mahoney wasn’t able to handle the ball and both runners were safe.
The Lunkers made the Border Cats pay with an RBI single from Andrew Letourneau, and a sacrifice fly from Christian Stringer to tie the game at two.
All Star Steven Brault showed his power with a two-run blast to deep right field to score Dan Olinger and give the Lunkers a 4-2 lead after three innings.
“The guys were cracking jokes when I crossed home plate,” said Brault. “I’m not the biggest guy so they like to make jokes. I am mostly a singles hitter. It was awesome and felt really good and the guys were really supportive.”
After getting six outs with five strike outs in the third and fourth inning, Willman ran into trouble in the fifth. Brett Kay walked for Thunder Bay and came into score on a sacrifice fly from Kevin Taylor.
Willman’s night was done in the sixth and Tyler Sparger came in and gave up an RBI single to tie the game at four.
The Lunkers then put the game away with a five-run inning in the bottom of the sixth. Andrew Letourneau was walked to start the inning. Christian Stringer was asked to bunt, but failed on his first two attempts. Stringer then laced a triple to right center field to score Letourneau and hand the Lunkers a 5-4 lead.
Brainerd then sent eight more batters to the plate with Brault adding a double to score Dan Olinger, who had been intentionally walked. The Border Cats also botched a run down with Olinger between first and second base that allowed Stringer to score.
“The pitcher was throwing a lot of off speed pitches,” said Brault. “He then threw some fastballs and came back with a couple of change ups. The second one fooled me, but we always talk about getting the barrel of the bat out there and that’s what I was focusing on and it worked.”
After giving up the run scoring single in the sixth inning, Sparger settled down and pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and eighth innings to calm the Border Cats offense before giving way to Chase Webb in the ninth inning.
“I knew that I had to come in and keep the ball on the outside corner and mix it up a little bit,” Sparger said. “I need to have them guessing a little bit when I am throwing.”
Thunder Bay 020 011 000 — 4 9 3
Brainerd 022 005 00x — 9 9 1
Thunder Bay: Casey Selsor, Joseph Koon (5), Alec Smith (6), Ryan Lucero (8) and Evan Weibel
Brainerd: Joe Willman, Tyler Sparger (6) Chase Webb and Jon Crist
W: Tyler Sparger. L: Joseph Koon.
2B: Ino Patron (TB), Mike Hubbard (TB), Paul Toboni (B), Steven Brault (B)
3B: Christian Stringer (B)
HR: Brault (B)
SB: Stringer (B), Dan Olinger (B)
SF: Kevin Taylor (TB), Stringer (B)
RBIs: Mike Hubbard (TB), Cullen Mahoney (TB), Kevin Taylor (TB), Brett Kay, Andrew Letourneau (B), Stringer (B) 2, Brault (B) 2, Hunter Adrian (B)
DP: TB 2
LOB: TB 9, Brd 10