The La Crosse Loggers stayed alive in the Northwoods League playoff race.
Needing a victory over the Bismarck Larks on Thursday night to remain in the hunt for a postseason berth, the Loggers used a pair of big innings early to post a big 12-5 victory over the North first-half champions before 1,951 fans at Municipal Ballpark.
The Larks, assured of a spot in the postseason and a home playoff game on Monday by winning the first-half title, piled up 10 hits – including a pair of homers. They had at least one baserunner in each of the first eight innings but couldn’t counter La Crosse’s early outburst. Bismarck stranded 10 baserunners.
La Crosse had 12 hits and took advantage of 16 walks by four Larks pitchers in a game that lasted 3:40.
La Crosse, battling to stay in the playoff race, batted around to take a three-run lead in the top of the first. The Loggers came into the night one game back in the second-half standings – part of a pack of four teams separated by just one game – and four games back of the final wild-card spot. Mankato’s 6-5 win at Eau Claire on Thursday night eliminated La Crosse from wild-card contention, which means they need to win the second-half title to earn a spot in the postseason.
Harrison Freed drove in two runs with a single to left, and Grant Judkins walked with the bases loaded to force in a run.
The Loggers batted around again in the second, scoring five times to take an 8-0 lead.
Hendry Rodriguez, the presumptive opening-day postseason starter for the Larks, was planning to throw around 40 pitches in his final regular-season appearance. But some uncharacteristic wildness short-circuited the Larks’ best-laid plans.
Rodriguez needed 34 pitches – one short of the Northwoods League maximum of 35 – to get through the first inning. He came out for the second, retired leadoff hitter Braiden Ward but then walked Donta Williams and Freed.
Ike Rothenberg greeted reliever Scott Meylan with a three-run homer over the ivy-covered right field wall. Bryce Blaum added an RBI single, and Blaum later came home to score on a Meylan wild pitch.
Rothenberg went 3-for-4 with a double, triple, three runs and three RBIs. Freed, Lee, Blaum and Judkins each had two hits for the Loggers (39-30, 22-12 second half).
Rodriguez went 1 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on two hits. He walked five, hit a batter and struck out two.
The Larks got on the board in the third, putting up a big inning of their own.
Ripken Reyes led off reaching on a hit by pitch and Kyle Stevens singled up the middle. Braden Williams singled, and Reyes sprinted home from second when the ball eluded Loggers left fielder Williams. Matt Warkentin teed off on a 1-2 pitch from Bill Chillari and drove the ball over the left-field wall for his 14th homer of the season, pulling the Larks within 8-4.
Steve Mann added a two-run single for La Crosse in the fourth, making it 10-4. Judkins’ two-run single in the fifth restored the Loggers’ eight-run lead.
Jacob Nesbit led off the bottom of the fifth with his second homer of the season for the Larks, making it 12-5.
Reyes and Warkentin each had two hits for the Larks (36-32, 11-21 second half).
The two teams square off again tonight at 7:35 p.m. The Larks wrap up the regular season this weekend with a pair of home games against Duluth before opening the Northwoods League playoffs on Monday at Municipal Ballpark.