Do you want the good news or bad news first?
The good news is that the Brainerd Blue Thunder play the Alexandria Beetles just one more time the rest of the season.
The bad news is that the Beetles beat Brainerd for the seventh time in as many meetings this season, winning Thursday's Northwoods League game 8-2 at Mills Field.
A win by Alexandria at home on Friday and the Beetles will sweep the season series from Brainerd.
"For whatever reason, Alex finds a way to beat us," Blue Thunder manager Jason Huskey said. "Now it's hard to stomach because we're just as talented and we match up well with them. You have to give them credit because they've figured out a way to beat us each time."
Brainerd Blue Thunder starting pitcher Kris Jiggitts delivered a pitch in Thursday's game against the Alexandria Beetles at Mills Field. The Blue Thunder lost 8-2, their third loss in the last five games. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
In their previous six games, the Beetles swarmed the Blue Thunder, outscoring them 58-10. On Thursday, Alexandria turned a close 2-2 ballgame into a rout as it put up a five-spot in the sixth for a 7-2 lead.
The Beetles loaded the bases with one out when Brainerd starter Kris Jiggitts, who struggled to find the strike zone, walked Josh Upchurch for a run.
One batter later, the Beetles' Doug Pickens hit into a forceout at home, but in an attempt for a double play the throw to first hit Pickens, allowing another run to score, making it 4-2.
"Kris made a great pitch to possibly get out of the inning and I thought the runner was inside the line," Huskey said. "Guys are taught to obstruct that throw. I left Kris in one pitch too long and that's my fault. He pitched out and it should've been 3-2. I wanted to get him through the inning before we went to the pen.
"Had it stayed close it would've been a different game. But once the lead got away it makes it hard to come back."
That one pitch came with two runners on and Alexandria's Victor Sanchez, who came into the game hitting .377, at the plate. Sanchez launched a 1-0 Jiggitts offering over the left-field wall for a three-run homer and a 7-2 lead.
The Blue Thunder entered the game tied with Alexandria and Rochester for second place in the North Division, one game back of the Duluth Huskies. Friday's game is especially important, not only to stay in the second-half title chase, but also to stave off the season sweep.
Alexandria 8, Blue Thunder 2
One-sided: Brainerd lost to Alexandria for the seventh-straight time this season.
Overall: Brd 5-6, Alex 6-5.
Next: Brd at Alexandria 7:05 p.m. Friday.
"Now it's all mental," Huskey said. "All the guys on the roster know we haven't beaten them and that's a huge factor for both sides. You don't want to be swept by anyone in this league. It is a mental advantage for them and a negative one for us."
Brainerd nabbed an early lead in the bottom of the first when center fielder Andy Dirks led off with a single and stole second. He moved over to third on a fielder's choice by Ben Orloff and scored on a Ryan Royster groundout.
After Alexandria scored twice in the second inning, the Blue Thunder tied the game in the third when Orloff singled. He moved over to second on a groundout by Royster and came around to score a batter later when Xavier Scruggs laced a single to left field.
But the Blue Thunder finished with just four hits in the game, two coming from Dirks. Beetles reliever Richard Bleier took over for starter Andrew Robinson in the sixth and tossed four innings of no-hit baseball.
"We'd like to produce a little bit more," Brainerd first baseman Patrick Rose said. "I think we're putting a little bit too much pressure on ourselves at the plate. When you're not relaxed as a hitter it's harder to see the ball and hit it. We just need to stay relaxed."
Alexandria 020 005 100 - 8 13 1
Brainerd 101 000 000 - 2 4 3
Alexandria: Andrew Robinson, Richard Bleier (6) and Doug Pickens. Brainerd: Kris Jiggitts, Bryan Evans (6), Eric Anderson (8), Alex Guttosch (9) and Matt LaGree. W: Robinson (3-3). L: Jiggitts (2-3).
2B: Alex-Doug Pickens 2, Denny Duron. HR: Alex-Victor Sanchez. SB: Brd-Andy Dirks, Ben Orloff; Alex-Gunner Glad, Casey Coleman. Sac: Brd-Ben Orloff. RBI: Brd-Ryan Royster, Xavier Scruggs; Alex-Donny Jobe, Josh Upchurch, Sanchez 3, Duron. LOB: Brd 9, Alex 9. DP: Brd 1.
TROY GUNDERSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5865.
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