Four-plus hours of baseball came down to one hitter.
With runners at first and second and two out, and clinging to a 7-6 lead, the Brainerd Warriors turned to senior Chris Smolke to save a rainy second game of a doubleheader.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander's assignment was to face the Thunderhawks' Brady Randolph, who had crunched a solo home run to straightaway center field in the third inning. Smolke rose to the challenge by getting Randolph to pop to second base for the final out and a split of the twinbill.
Smolke followed left-hander Ethan Branum, right-hander Brett Kramer and Branum again. Branum went the first three innings, was relieved by Kramer, who was replaced by Branum, who returned to face lefty Kyle Figgins. But Branum hit Figgins, bringing on Smolke.
Brainerd third baseman Brett Kramer fielded a ground ball in Friday's doubleheader against Grand Rapids. Kramer was the winning pitcher in the second game. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"It was a tough night to be out on the mound trying to pitch," Warriors coach Lowell Scearcy said. "Brett came in and did a real good job for a few innings. We didn't want him to face a big lefty with a man on base so it was either Branum or (lefty) Brett Cloutier and Cloutier was sore, so we went to Branum.
"Then we went to Chris on the next guy and (Randolph) was capable of hitting it a long way. We were fortunate enough to get him to pop up and get the split."
Kramer earned his second win. In 3 2/3 innings he struck out seven, walked just one and gave up only two hits.
He entered the game following a six-run inning that put the Thunderhawks ahead 6-5.
"I felt good out there, my fastball, curveball and even my changeup, which I don't usually throw," Kramer said. "The guys played defense behind me and (catcher) Nate (Smolke) called a good game."
Brainerd jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first with Nate Smolke and Tyler Jensen driving in runs. The Warriors added an unearned run in the second.
Brainerd pitcher Brett Cloutier delivered in the fifth inning of Friday's first game against Grand Rapids. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The Thunderhawks erupted for six unearned runs in the third against Branum and Brainerd appeared perilously close to getting swept.
Bronson Shepherd and Jensen each had two hits for the Warriors.
Grand Rapids 006 000 - 6 5 4
Brainerd 410 020 x - 7 6 7
GR-Luke St. Germain and Billy Shaw. Brd-Ethan Branum, Brett Kramer (4), Branum (7), Chris Smolke (7) and Nate Smolke. W-Kramer (2-0). L-St. Germain.
2B-Nate Smolke. HR-Brady Randolph (GR). SB-Jedinak, Sam Sparen (GR), John Skrbec (GR), Tyler Jensen (B). RBIs-Nate Smolke, Jensen, Bill Martinetto (GR), Erik Hovet (GR), Randolph. LOB-GR 3, Brd 7. DP-Brd 1.
GR 10, Warriors 9
Warriors 7, GR 6
The key: Brainerd salvaged a split by scoring twice in the fifth inning of the nightcap
Overall: Brd 13-2, GR 7-4
Next: Princeton at Brainerd 1 p.m. Saturday, Brainerd at Willmar 4 p.m. Monday
GR 10, Warriors 9
Brainerd's 12-game win streak came to an end - barely.
Trailing 10-6 in the bottom of the seventh Chris Smolke and Nick Jelacie hit consecutive home runs. Smolke's was a two-run drive to left and Jelacie's, on the next pitch, went to right.
That closed the gap to the final score before Shepherd grounded into a 4-3 double play, ending the streak and the game.
"Obviously, we've thought about it," Kramer said of the streak ending. "No one wants to lose but a bad game is going to come our way. That's baseball so we'll just keep playing and do what we can."
Scearcy complimented the Warriors for their rally.
"We didn't quite make it, but we came back in that seventh inning and hit about five balls quite hard," he said, "and a couple of them happened to be right at somebody."
Brainerd let a 6-2 lead slip away as the Thunderhawks scored four times in the fifth, three in the sixth and once in the seventh.
Trevor Thompson finished 3-for-4 with an RBI single. Bo Jedinak was 2-for-2 with two stolen bases. Chris Smolke went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Shepherd was 2-for-3 with an RBI double.
Additional RBI hits for the Warriors were by Kramer and Rhett Williamson.
Grand Rapids 002 043 1 - 10 10 1
Brainerd 500 100 3 - 9 13 2
GR-Erik Hovet, Jeremy Schmitz (5) and Billy Shaw. Brd-Nick Rardin, Brett Cloutier (5) and Nate Smolke. W-Schmitz. L-Cloutier (0-1).
2B-Hovet, Bronson Shepherd (B), Billy Shaw (GR), Nate Smolke, Bill Martinetto (GR). HR-Chris Smolke (B), Nick Jelacie (B). SB-Bo Jedinak (B) 2, Trevor Thompson (B), Brett Kramer (B), Tyler Jensen (B), Dan Gilbert (GR), Martinetto. Sac-Martinetto, Hovet, Gabe Wood (GR), Sam Sparen (GR). RBIs-Sam Sparen (GR), Hovet 3, Chris Smolke, Nate Smolke, Kramer, Rhett Williamson, Trevor Thompson (B), Brady Randolph (GR) 2, John Skrbec (GR), Martinetto, Shepherd. LOB-GR 7, Brd 3. DP-GR 1.
MIKE BIALKA can be reached at email@example.com and at 855-5861.
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