Connor Centala spotted the Bismarck Larks an early run, then settled in.
The North Carolina State freshman pitched seven strong innings as the Thunder Bay Border Cats posted a 7-3 victory over the Larks in the opening game of a two-game Northwoods League series on Friday night at Municipal Ballpark.
It was the third straight setback to start the second half for the Larks, who clinched a playoff berth by winning the first-half North Division title earlier this week.
Nick Conti had three hits for Thunder Bay, which outhit the Larks 11-8.
Matt Warkentin got the Larks an early lead, driving a full-pitch offering from Centala to center field, driving in Chase Coker for a 1-0 Bismarck lead in the bottom of the second inning. Warkentin had three hits for Bismarck.
But the Larks couldn’t get much offense going against Centala, who held Bismarck to one run on four hits over seven innings. The Border Cats left-hander improved to 2-1 on the season in picking up the win, walking two and striking out four.
After shutting down Thunder Bay over the first three innings, Larks starter Cruz Daddario ran into trouble in the top of the fourth as the Border Cats put up a crooked number with three runs on four hits.
Thunder Bay evened it up in the fourth on Daniel DeSimone’s one-out RBI single to right. Shane Connahan’s two-run double to deep center gave the Border Cats the lead at 3-1.
But centerfielder Christian Montez gunned down a runner at the plate to end the inning on an 8-2 double play to limit the damage.
Except for the three-run fourth, Daddario (4-3) kept the Border Cats in check. The Cal State-Northridge junior scattered five hits over seven innings, allowing three runs, walking three and striking out three.
The Larks had a chance to cut into the deficit in the bottom of the seventh, but a strong relay throw by shortstop Brandon Bossart bailed out the Border Cats.
Warkentin launched a double to center field that one-hopped the wall. But Brandon Barna was gunned down at the plate on an 8-6-2 relay to maintain the Border Cats’ two-run lead.
Thunder Bay added to the lead in the top of the eighth with a pair of runs.
The first run came home on a wild pitch by Larks reliever Tristen Hudson. Brandon Trammell followed with a run-scoring triple to make it 5-1.
Wyatt Ulrich’s RBI single in the bottom of the eighth off reliever Andrew Gross got the Larks within three runs at 5-2.
But Thunder Bay added two more insurance runs in the top of the ninth on Nick Conti’s one-out single, making it 7-2 Border Cats.
Warkentin hit a solo homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth. It was the fifth homer of the season for the Xavier junior, but his first at Municipal Ballpark.
The teams square off again today at 6:05 p.m. The home stand continues against Willmar on Sunday at 3:05 p.m. and Monday at 7:05 p.m.