Baseball teams like to win games the macho way -- by virtue of power hitting, superior pitching or flawless defense.
But this is early spring in Minnesota and the Brainerd Warriors will take a win any way they can. On Thursday at Adamson Field they nipped the Alexandria Cardinals 5-4 on Adam Hardy's sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
Joey Tautges opened the Brainerd seventh with a single to right. Matt Means followed with a sharp single to left. Nick Weiland was walked intentionally to load the bases.
Ahead in the count 1-0, Hardy lofted a sacrifice fly to center that forced outfielder Amos Hartsell to drift to his left. Tautges tagged up and scored easily as Brainerd won for the second time in three games.
"Mainly, I was trying to get it into play, hopefully hit a gap," Hardy said, "but a sacrifice fly works for me."
The Cardinals made Brainerd work for the win. The Warriors seized a 1-0 edge in the first when Tim Siekas tripled to right-center and scored on Tautges' groundout to second.
Alexandria tied the game in the fourth but the Warriors regained the lead in the bottom half of the inning when Mike Zauhar scored following two errors.
The Cardinals pushed across three unearned runs in the sixth against Hardy and Weiland to grab a 4-2 lead before Brainerd tied it in its half of the inning on Jason Goerges' two-run single to left.
That set the stage for Hardy, who pitched five respectable innings but didn't figure in the decision. He gave up no earned runs, walked one and struck out four.
"I had a couple batters I had trouble with, but all in all I felt good," Hardy said. "I was throwing strikes and getting people out."
Until the sixth. Hardy hit the leadoff batter and got Dave Deterding to ground to short but Zauhar threw errantly in an attempt to get a force at second. Hardy then walked Brandon Smith to load the bases and Warriors coach Lowell Scearcy summoned Weiland to the mound.
Weiland entered the game with a 2-0 count but came back to strike out Brett Einerson. The Cardinals' Ben Head and Keith Eckhoff then perfectly executed suicide squeeze bunts to tie the game. Weiland hit Mike Tripp to reload the bases but struck out the next two Cardinals to snuff the uprising.
"We had a chance to get them on the first one, and didn't," Scearcy said of the bunts. "The second one was just a good bunt. We didn't get anybody out on either one, which is our mistake. They scored three runs in the sixth without a hit and without hitting a ball out of the infield."
Weiland finished with two strikeouts in two innings. He didn't give up a hit or run. Scearcy's plan was to throw Weiland just one inning.
"We ended up having to use him two innings to win the game," Scearcy said. "I'm not sure if we had him warmed up good the first inning he went in.
"If Adam hadn't hit anyone it was a pretty decent performance for him. I think we hit three guys actually, and we got out of trouble the first few innings. Adam was rolling pretty good through the third, fourth and fifth, and ran into trouble in the sixth. We probably left him in one inning too many, but his pitch count was down. We were hoping he could finish the sixth. If we were tied or ahead we were going to go with Nick in the seventh, but it didn't turn out the way we had planned."
Siekas, Tautges, Means and Zauhar each had two of the Warriors' 11 hits on a dreary, overcast day.
"We hit some balls hard, but they died a little bit short," Scearcy said. "I don't know if it was the air today or the minus-3 bats (length can't exceed weight by more than three inches). We hit three balls when they left the bat that I thought were gone, and they caught all three of them."
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