You have to expect fireworks on the Fourth of July. But you usually expect the glitter and glow to start popping a little later in the day, after the sun has set.
Maybe the way the Madison Mallards baseball team got its cannons firing right from the first inning took Brainerd's Mighty Gulls by surprise. In any event, the Gulls dropped their second game in as many days Wednesday to the visiting Mallards 8-4 at Mills Field.
After a disappointing 5-3 loss to the Mallards Tuesday night, the Gulls were hoping to get the holiday festivities off on the right track by rebounding and winning Wednesday. They had a strategy in place to handle the Mallard hitters. But that strategy went out the window as the Mallards cracked out four first-inning runs and held on to earn the win.
Gulls starting pitcher Tim Gorski lasted just two innings, giving up eight hits and six earned runs. It was far from a typical Gorski performance as he has been one of the league's top pitchers through the first half of the season.
Before Wednesday's start, Gorski had built a 4-2 record with a 1.59 ERA, sixth best in the league. This day, Gorski seemed to have good placement and movement on the ball but the Mallards seemed to draw a bead on everything Gorski offered.
"The pitches that we were calling, they were hitting," said Gulls catcher Greg Blaesing. "Tim was throwing curveballs and everything for strikes and they were just hitting them.
"The way we were going to attack their hitters, like their leadoff hitter, we were going to work him inside. And then the first pitch we threw him was a fastball inside and he hit it to left-center. So, they changed their approaches and they beat us early. After that we were fine."
That leadoff hit by the Mallards' Ryan Spilborghs was the start of a productive day for the Madison center fielder. He finished 3-for-4 and scored two runs.
Blaesing, a red-shirt sophomore from Illinois State University, had two hits for Brainerd as did shortstop Jeremy Isenhower and center fielder T. J. Bohn, who along with Brainerd's Ronnie Seets, continues to be one of the league's top hitters.
Entering Wednesday's game, Bohn was hitting at a .311 clip. His 2-for-4 performance Wednesday raised his average.
"(Mallards starter Robbie Van) was pitching me away and I was just trying to go the other way with it," Bohn said. "I stayed with the outside pitch."
Besides his two hits, Bohn scored two runs and turned in a sparkling defensive play.
Sheets went 0-for-5 on the day and his .322 average dipped accordingly.
After scoring their four first-inning runs, the Mallards added two in the second and another in the top of the fourth to forge a 7-0 lead before the Gulls could dent the scoreboard.
Brainerd scored single runs in the fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth to cut into the Mallards' lead but the Gulls could never completely close the gap.
"We gave up a little too much early and couldn't get out of the hole," said Bohn who nearly made an acrobatic, late-inning highlight-film style catch as he dove and slid toward the infield and just missed hauling in a sinking line drive in shallow center.
"The ball hit my glove," said Bohn. "It went in my glove but I hit the ground and it bounced out."
Dante Brinkley, the Gulls' left fielder, also turned in a sparkling defensive gem. His play came in the seventh as he chased down a slicing, sailing drive deep in the left-field corner. Brinkley turned the drive into an out but it could easily have spelled more trouble for the Gulls.
John Fumagalli relieved Gorski in the top of the third and pitched the rest of the way, allowing one earned run on three hits while striking out four and walking four.
The Gulls host Wisconsin for a two-game series Thursday and Friday. Game time both nights is 7:05 at Mills Field.
Madison 420 100 001 -- 8 11 1
Brainerd 000 101 110 -- 4 10 3
Madison -- Robbie Van, Mike Schaffer (8), Matt Freisieben (9) and David Castillo. Brainerd -- Tim Gorski, John Fumagalli (3) and Greg Blaesing. W -- Van (1-2). L -- Gorski (4-3).
2B -- Ryan Spilborghs, Josh Jezek. HR -- Tony Piazza. SB -- Spilborghs; Dante Brinkley, T.J. Bohn. E -- Rene Recio, Chris Studer, John Fumagalli (2). DP -- Gulls 1. LOB -- Mallards, 10; Gulls 10.
Attendance -- 359. Next games -- Wisconsin at Brainerd, 7:05 p.m. today and Friday.
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