It's over - finally.
The Brainerd Blue Thunder ended their 10-game losing streak Friday night by holding off the Wisconsin Woodchucks 4-3 at Mills Field.
Brainerd snapped out of its funk thanks to nine hits, including a solo home run by third baseman Xavier Scruggs, and the pitching of Romanian right-hander Mihai Burlea.
But, the outcome wasn't definite until Brainerd reliever Bryan Westphal struck out Jordan Stine to end the game with the tying run at third base.
"Given the situation, I was really concerned," Blue Thunder manager Jason Huskey said. "We haven't had a lot of things go our way. It was just nice to get a win and get that pink elephant out of the room because we could feel it every day when we walked in or when we got on the bus.
"We made it close but we gave the fans something to enjoy there at the end. Westphal gets a big strikeout, that's why he's in there. He's our closer. That's what we expect him to do, shut the door when we have a chance to win."
Wisconsin didn't have much chance against Burlea, who went 6 1/3 innings, giving up eight hits but only one earned run. He struck out six, walked two, hit a batter and threw two wild pitches.
Burlea pitched out of two bases-loaded jams and left with a 4-2 lead and a runner at second with two out in the seventh. Reliever Tyler Brandon got out of the inning and retired five of six batters he faced.
"With Mihai, you're going to get both worlds, " Huskey said. "You're going to get the walks but you're also going to get the big strikeouts. I just want to continue to work with him and make him understand that as good as his fastball is that you don't need to pitch around guys."
Brainerd received a boost from the season debuts of center fielder Andy Dirks, a Northwoods All-Star and Silver Glove Award winner last season, and right fielder Ryan Royster.
Dirks went 0-for-5 in his return from Wichita State but was his usual steady self in center.
Royster, from the University of California, went 2-for-4 with a single, stolen base and RBI triple. He was drafted in the 44th round by the Cleveland Indians last week.
Outfielder Erik Komatsu, who hit .273 with 22 RBIs last summer, is scheduled to join the Blue Thunder for Sunday's home game against Mankato. He was drafted in the 38th round by the New York Yankees last week.
"Obviously, it changes our whole order," Huskey said of the roster additions. "I don't want to take anything from the kids who were battling in the positions they were in but these guys were built for those spots in the order. That's why I recruited them."
Scruggs' spanked his second solo home run in two nights, his third of the season, to put the Blue Thunder ahead 2-1.
"I was able to get a good swing on it and let it go," he said. "I was pretty happy I could do that for my team. It put them on top."
Scruggs also scorched a long fly to left for an out and doubled.
"That's a big thing, I think I'm getting adjusted to the wood," said Scruggs. "I'm finally starting to get my swing back. I'm just doing what I've got to do, just trying to help the team."
Patrick Rose and Adam Symons each had two hits for Brainerd and Clay Cuno had an RBI single.
Wisconsin's manager is former Milwaukee Brewers infielder Jim Gantner, whose son, Matt, the Woodchucks' left fielder, went 2-for-4 on Friday.
The game was delayed 46 minutes by rain and lightning.
Wisconsin 010 000 101 - 3 8 0
Brainerd 011 020 00x - 4 9 4
Wis-Matt Trausch, Colin Auten (6) and Joe Servais, Curt Marshall (8). Brd-Mihai Burlea, Tyler Brandon (7), Bryan Westphal (9) and Ryan Baker. W-Burlea (1-1). L-Trausch (1-1). Sv-Westphal.
2B-Xavier Scruggs (B). 3B-Ryan Royster (B), Brandon Frazier (W). HR-Scruggs. SB-Royster. Sac-David Wilson (B), Matt Willard (W), Steve Gerstenberger (W). RBI-Joe Servais (W), Gerstenberger, Justin Potes (W), Clay Cuno (B), Scruggs, Royster. LOB-Wis 11, Brd 9. DP-Brd 1. T-3:00.
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com and at 855-5861.
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