After a seven-game road trip that saw the Brainerd Mighty Gulls go 2-5, the team had to be anxious to get back inside the friendly confines of Mills Field, where they went 2-1 to start the season.
The North Division-leading Mankato Moondogs had other ideas Monday night as they scored early for a 5-2 victory, thanks mainly to a four-run second inning.
The Moondogs scored five runs off of Mighty Gulls starter Bobby Torres through 1 2/3 innings on five hits and two walks. Torres was lifted after three innings against Waterloo last week after feeling tightness in his elbow.
"I'm really happy about how every single person threw," Brainerd head coach Kyle Crookes said. "Bobby just wasn't where he needs to be. We had to shut him down at Waterloo when he felt some tightness in his elbow. He said he felt all right (Monday), but he hasn't said anything yet.
"He was mad when I took him out, which I like. He's a competitor, but at the same time, we needed a chance to win the game."
Brainerd got that chance as Abe Morris shut down Mankato for 4 1/3 innings, giving up three hits and a walk while fanning two batters. Jon Hunton, Gordon Dugan and Dustin Braud each pitched scoreless innings in relief with Dugan striking out the side in the eighth.
Statistically, the teams were nearly even. Both had eight hits, with Brainerd leaving 10 on base and Mankato stranding eight. Mankato held the edge by committing three errors to Brainerd's two. Three Moondog pitchers combined to strike out the Gulls 10 times.
"I think the team needs to learn how to take walks," Crookes said. "When you string a big inning together, it's normally comprised of walks and errors and then a big hit as opposed to a couple of hits and no walks.
"We need to strike out less and walk more, put the ball in play. Those guys made errors and booted the ball around. I'm not going to knock their team. They did everything they needed to do and we didn't take advantage of their errors."
Kevin Crowley picked up his first win of the year by going five innings and giving up two runs on seven hits while striking out four batters. Jeff Spicer picked up his fourth save of the year by striking out the side in the ninth.
Mankato got all five of its runs in the first two innings. Andrew Wishy drove in one run in the first inning with a single. In the second, Justin Hart drove in one and Aaron Olson plated two on base hits with the fourth run scoring on a wild pitch.
Brainerd got two back in the game in the bottom half of the second. Ryan Finan led off with a double and scored on a Mankato error. Ryan McCarthy scored another on a fielder's choice. The Moondogs managed to shut down the Gulls the rest of the way for the win.
All but two Moondogs registered hits with Tom Everidge leading the way by going 2-for-3. Gulls designated hitter Matt Rebout went 2-for-3, Finan was 2-for-4 and Black Denischuk was 2-for-5.
Crookes said the team is still learning and he is not overly concerned with the four-game skid.
"I think they're trying hard every day," he said. "This is the first time they are realizing that it is for real, every day, and they don't get 3-4 days off where they get to go to school and hang out with their girlfriends.
"I care about every single game, but I want us to play better late. If this means they're learning how to do it now, then I'm OK with that. I just want to make sure that they're learning."
Bryan Beck is expected to get the start tonight in the second game of Brainerd's three-game series with Mankato tonight. Beck, along with McCarthy, joined the team this week after UCLA wrapped up its season.
Mankato 140 000 000 -- 5 8 3
Brainerd 020 000 000 -- 2 8 2
Mankato -- Kevin Crowley, Darren Sack (6), Jeff Spicer (9) and Roger Cook. Brainerd -- Bobby Torres, Abe Morris (2), Jon Hunton (7), Gordon Dugan (8), Dustin Braud (9) and Ben Vannatter. W -- Crowley (1-0). L -- Torres (1-1). Sv -- Spicer (4).
2B -- M-Chandler Rose (4); B-Ryan Finan (4). SB -- M-Justin Hart (4), Donnell Boyer 2 (4); B-Steve Adams (4), Tim Gray (4). RBI -- M-Hart, Aaron Olson 2, Andrew Wishy; B-Ryan McCarthy. LOB -- M 8, B 10. DP -- B 1.
Time -- 2:47. Attendance -- 901. Records -- M 6-4, B 4-7. Next game -- Brainerd hosts Mankato tonight 7:05 p.m. at Mills Field.
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