For better or worse, the Madison Mallards proved again Thursday night a game is never over in the Northwoods League, especially when playing at the Duck Pond.
After entering the final frame with a 9-2 lead, the Mallards struggled to seal the deal against the Duluth Huskies, allowing theme to plate four runs on four hits in the inning, including a two-run home run out of the park in left field.
Madison held on, though, taking the game by a score of 9-6 for their fourth consecutive home sweep, eighth straight home win and 10th in their last 11 games.
“Nothing’s over until you get that final out,” Mallards manager C.J. Thieleke said. “In our park, we’re in so tight on the lines that if they get tying run up, then you’re a home run away from being tied.”
Cody Winiarski earned the win for the Mallards, pitching 6.2 strong innings while Brad Allen earned the save, his first of the season, in just 1/3 inning of work.
Winiarski allowed just two runs — neither earned — on three hits while striking out seven. At one point in the ballgame, he had retired 18 consecutive Duluth batters.
Aside from a pair of hits and a couple bad throws in the first inning, the sophomore appeared to be dialed in all night and the Huskies couldn’t touch him in the second through the sixth innings.
“I threw one changeup in the first inning and it was terrible,” Winiarski said. “That was the one that got by the catcher and allowed the runners to advance. From there on out I was able to control the changeup pretty good and kept them off balance.”
The Huskies struck first Thursday, scoring early on an errant pickoff attempt. Following the run, Winiarski settled in and got the batter to pop up to short for the first of his 18 consecutive outs.
After going scoreless in the bottom of the first, the Mallards answered in the second thanks to a pair of big hits by Harold Riggins and Troy Channing.
Riggins got things started with a one out triple, the first of the season for Madison.
“Harold was very frustrated with himself after screwing up on that pickoff,” Thieleke said. “The only option there is to come up and have a big at-bat. We always say if you’re going to give up one let’s try to drive in two so we stay on plus side of that.”
One out later, Channing stepped up to the plate looking to get things rolling with two down in the inning. He did more than that as he put the Mallards up 2-1 with one swing of the bat. Channing drove a ball out to the gap in right into the Huskies’ bullpen.
The home run was the first of the year for Channing, who entered the game batting just .231 with seven runs batted in.
“Two out hits, those always make a big difference,” Thieleke said. “Troy had a big one there and you know, every run is important and we showed that in the ninth.”
Starter Jeff Rydman took the loss for Duluth, despite surrendering just four of the nine runs Madison scored in the game. Rydman gave up those runs on eight hits over five innings pitched along with eight strikeouts.
Rydman left the game with his team trailing 4-1, but the Mallards really didn’t blow things open until the seventh inning.
Kurtis Muller got things started for Madison with a one out walk, and was followed by Joe De Pinto, who reached on an error. The Huskies got a second out when Adam McClain grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Muller being tagged out at the plate.
The Mallards, however, were not done in the inning. Joe Patterson followed with an RBI single to left and Chris Barker — who replaced an injured Riggins in the fifth — walked to force a pitching change.
Jerrud Sabourin batted next and he greeted the Huskies new pitcher with a three-run double down the left field line, which proved to be the eventual game-winner.
With a full count and two out, the runners went with the pitch, allowing Barker to score all the way from first when Duluth left fielder Jared Womack couldn’t come up with the game saving catch.
“I didn’t know it would be game-winning hit at the time, but it feels great,” Sabourin said. “I actually thought it might go out off the bat, but I was fortunate that it dropped. I’ll take it.”
The Mallards would score one more as Sabourin came around on a Channing single.
Madison improved to 11-3 with the win while Duluth drops to .500 at 7-7.
The Mallards will continue their home stand with a game against La Crosse Friday night at the Duck Pond. Jacob Esch, a right-handed freshman from Georgia Tech, will take the mound for the first this season for Madison.