Twenty-two years after Bismarck’s last non-school, non-Legion baseball team won its debut at Bismarck Municipal Ballpark in the bottom of the ninth, its newest version debuted in similar fashion on Tuesday.
Cullen Smith’s opposite field single past a diving Eau Claire left-fielder plated Quinn Irey with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as the Larks beat Eau Claire 2-1 in front of 1,690 fans.
Irey, of Bismarck, doubled to left-center to open the inning and raced home when the sinking liner got past the fielder.
It wasn’t a Boo Moore homer like it was for the Dakota Rattlers in 1995, but it was an entertaining game dominated by pitchers and some clutch hitting.
And on a night of firsts, the Bismarck Larks earned the most important first of all – a win.
“First of all, our pitching was fantastic,” Larks coach Sean Repay said. “These kids are so good. Ryan Byrd, my goodness. He earned that start.”
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Byrd didn’t get the decision, but the left-hander dominated the seven innings he worked. Byrd gave up just three singles, walked no one and set a team record of 10 strikeouts that will take a good game to break.
Pitchers in the Northwoods League are limited to 100 pitches in a game. Byrd left after the seventh with a 1-0 lead. He gave way to Tyler Steel, who picked up the win after a shaky start in which Eau Claire tie the game on a botched pickoff in the eighth.
“He came in and shut the door. I had a gut feeling we were going to turn it over in the ninth,” Repay said.
Irey bounced an infield single to second with one out in the second and went to second on Smith’s flare to left.
Both runners moved up on Luke Waldek’s ground out but Michael Pereznegron grounded to short to end the threat.
Eau Claire starter Ethan Nichols had two of the Express’ six hits. He worked six innings and gave up five singles.
Nichols was replaced to start the seventh inning by Jake Moebius, who promptly walked Smith and Luke Waldek to start the inning.
Moebius recovered to strike out Pereznegron and got Wyatt Ulrich on a groundout.
With two outs, David Salguiero beat out an infield single to second to drive in Smith with the go-ahead run.
Byrd hit one batter and never allowed a runner as far as second base. Obviously his 10 strikeouts are a franchise record.
But the Express tied it in their half of the seventh. With two outs, Justin Evans dropped a bloop into right. Tanner Umentum singled him to third where he came home on a botched pickoff play at first.
Steel picked Umentum off first but the Larks failed to get him out and Evans raced home with what is credited as a steal of home to tie the game 1-1.
Steel worked a perfect ninth.
Irey, from the University of Jamestown, lined a 1-0 pitch to left and outran the throw to second base to open the ninth inning.
Smith then lined a shot to left on a 1-1 pitch for the winning run.
“I was seeing him pretty well,” Smith said. “Honestly right there I was trying to pull it. I got my hands inside and hit it the other way and he had to dive for it and it went by him.”
Irey and Smith each had two hits for the Larks, who outhit the Express 8-6.
“It was a blast,” Smith said. “It was awesome, the fans were awesome, the team was awesome,” Smith said. “It was our first game together, everything’s cool man.”
Nichols and Nic Ready had two hits apiece for the Express.
The teams play again tonight.