After winning first- and second-half Northwoods League North Division titles with relative ease, the Brainerd Mighty Gulls were favorites to win the championship series against the Waterloo Bucks.
After the Gulls dropped the series opener 3-2 Saturday at Waterloo, Brainerd found itself in a situation it had avoided most of the year: Playing from behind.
Waterloo erupted for six runs in the seventh inning Sunday night to capture a 6-4 victory and sweep Brainerd, earning the league title at Mills Field in a do-or-die game for the Gulls.
The Bucks used a bloop single and two bunt singles to load the bases in the seventh. Two more singles, an error, a walk and a sacrifice fly gave Waterloo all the breathing room it would need.
"We just couldn't stop it," Gulls left fielder John Purdom said. "Everything kept going their way. The bunts, the hits kept falling in, everything. Everything that we usually don't do, happened. Usually, we'd only give up one or two in that inning and tonight we gave up six. It's real hard to come back from a 5 or 6-spot."
Brainerd ace Aaron Marsden started on four days rest after pitching a complete game against St. Cloud in the North Division championship series. Six days before that, he threw a 10-inning complete-game win. Marsden took the loss Sunday by giving up six runs through 6 1/3 innings on eight hits and four walks while fanning eight. Only three of those runs were earned.
"I think he probably was a little fatigued, not that he'd admit to it," Brainerd field manager Kyle Crookes said. "That's my fault for not taking him out after the sixth inning.
"That's my mistake. He's obviously never going to ask to come out of the game and I have to know better."
Meanwhile, Waterloo reliever Josh Payne was in the right place at the right time. He picked up the win with one inning of work despite yielding three runs on three hits.
It was an enormous reversal from the regular-season meetings between the teams in which Brainerd held a 6-2 advantage.
"We expected to win in two," Purdom said. "Nobody thought anything different. (Saturday) night we said we'd win the next two at home.
"We all expected to win this thing the whole season. It's kind of a disappointment."
Marsden worked through the first six innings and managed to work out of a few jams while his teammates staked him to a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Ronnie Seets, who finished the game 3-for-4 with two runs scored, led off the inning with a triple and scored on a wild pitch.
Brainerd answered Waterloo's monster half-inning with three runs to keep the Gulls in the game. Back-to-back singles by Seets and Brandon Freeborn put runners at first and second and Daniel Bruce laid down a bunt to move them into scoring position. Steve Adams grounded out to score one and Tyson Hanish scored another with a single. Ben Vannatter singled to plate one more, but it was all the damage Brainerd could muster.
"They gave up an effort the next half-inning and gave us a chance, but it's just difficult to recover from big innings, especially a six-run inning," Crookes said. "Runs are hard to come by."
Adams, Hanish, John Purdom and Ben Vannatter all had two hits apiece for the Gulls.
Despite the disappointing finish, the 2002 season marked the most successful in the Gulls' five-year existence. It was the first time Brainerd has made it to the league championship series.
"The first game they made tremendous defensive plays and saved themselves," Crookes said. "(Sunday) they just did everything right. They played better baseball the last two days than we did.
"Their guys played hard, our guys played hard. It's just that every execution, or every lack of execution, may end up costing you a run and it turned out in their favor this time."
Waterloo 000 000 600 -- 6 9 0
Brainerd 000 010 300 -- 4 12 1
Waterloo -- John Brunswold, Justin Allred (6), Josh Payne (6), Danny Muegge (7) and Curtis Thigpen. Brainerd -- Aaron Marsden, Damon White (7), Zach Sanchez (9) and Ben Vannatter. W -- Payne (4-2). L -- Marsden (7-2). Sv -- Muegge (1).
3B -- B-Ronnie Seets. SB -- W-Thigpen; B-Tyson Hanish. Sac -- W-Sean Lacoste. RBI -- W-Jeff Cammann, Drew Davidson, Zach Dillon, Kyle Haines; B-Steve Adams, Hanish, Vannatter. LOB -- W 8, B 8.
Time -- 3:00. Attendance -- 671.
Waterloo 3, Mighty Gulls 2
WATERLOO -- The Bucks captured the first game of the league championship series Saturday night with a 3-2 win against the Mighty Gulls.
Joe Ferin hit a two-run homer in the first inning to stake the Bucks to a 2-0 lead. They added one more run in the third.
Steve Adams and Ryan McCarthy each drove in a run for Brainerd. Daniel Bruce led the Gulls at the plate by going 2-for-4.
John Sterling picked up the win for Waterloo. He pitched six innings, giving up two runs on five hits and three walks while striking out three. Nathan Stone pitched three hitless innings of relief to earn the save.
Ryan Hamilton took the loss for Brainerd. He yielded three runs in three innings on five hits. Bryan Beck finished the game for the Gulls with five scoreless innings.
Brainerd 110 000 000 -- 2 5 0
Waterloo 201 000 00x -- 3 7 1
Brainerd -- Ryan Hamilton, Bryan Beck (4) and Ben Vannatter. Waterloo -- John Sterling, Nathan Stone (7) and Zach Dillon. W -- Sterling (4-3). L -- Hamilton (5-2). Sv -- Stone (5).
2B -- B-Daniel Bruce. HR -- W-Joe Ferin. RBI -- B-Steve Adams, Ryan McCarthy; W-Ferin 2, Mike Heldoorn. LOB -- B 7, W 7.
Time -- 2:40. Attendance -- 1,221.
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