In an otherwise back-and-forth affair with Fremont, the Badlands Big Sticks took the lead for the final time with an eighth-inning rally.
Tied at four with two outs, center fielder Bryson Ford tripled. Fremont elected to intentionally walked designated hitter Mason Schwellenbach, putting runners on the corners and bringing up first baseman Conner VanCleave.
As it had in his previous plate appearances, the Moo infield shifted, leaving a hole at shortstop. On the first pitch from starter James Scurto, VanCleave laced a line drive that found the left-field gap to plate Ford. The single started a rally that sealed the Big Sticks 8-5 victory over Fremont on Tuesday, June 18, at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark.
"It was kind of funny, I told third base coach Johnnie (Eaton) before the at-bat, I said, 'First pitch, they're gonna try and throw me away. I'm going to put one between where the shortstop should be,'" VanCleave said. "It ended up going exactly where I wanted it to and getting a run for the team. It was a whole team win there."
The shift worked in VanCleave's first appearance, as the 6-foot-7 lefty grounded out to first base. In his next at-bat, he went down swinging.
"I thought that was our best matchup, our best positioning to get him out," Moo head coach Shea Bennett said. "He just took one off the end of the bat and found a hole."
For an offensive powerhouse such as Badlands, going four innings without a run is a rarity.
A lead-off home run helped the Big Sticks establish a 2-1 advantage in the first frame, but from there, both the Big Sticks and Moo had zeroes across the board through the fifth.
The Fremont defense dictated the pace through the scoreless innings, with Scurto facing the minimum in the second, third and fourth frames. The right-handed hurler went the distance, allowing eight runs on nine hits, while walking four and fanning two.
"James Scurto was making a lot of big pitches, working down in the zone, mixing speeds like he always does, keeping hitters off-balance," Bennett said.
Badlands head coach Hayden Pewitt also pointed to Scurto's work to explain the lull in offense.
"He was spinning his breaking ball pretty well and he was throwing it for a strike every time," Pewitt said. "I thought we hit some balls hard into double plays, but hats off to him, man. That's one of the best starts we've seen all year against us."
In the sixth, the bats woke up.
With one out, designated Luke White singled to shallow left. Right fielder Brock Reller followed with a single to right, moving to second as White found himself at third on an error.
Another single, this one from catcher Jack Simonsen brought White home. Back-to-back flyouts to left fielder Kaimana Souza Paaluhi ended the momentum.
The string of hits evidently motivated Badlands.
Second baseman Ryan Walstad hit a one-out single to snap the hitless streak. Kaimana Souza Paaluhi and centerfielder Bryson Ford singled, loading the bases for Schwellenbach, who reached on a fielder's choice as Walstad scored.
With two outs, VanCleave singled to center to plate Souza Paaluhi and put the Big Sticks up 4-2.
"We catch on fire every once in a while," VanCleave said. "That pitcher was doing well mixing up pitches. All together, I think we just all of a sudden clicked and kind of game together as a team and started piecing balls left and right."
Following a scoreless seventh, reliever Michael Reddick gave up a two-run blast to Fremont catcher Luke White that tied the game at four. After Reddick walked the next batter, Jack Zalasky took over on the mound. The right-hander relinquished no hits and struck out one, earning the win.
Badlands used their fifth arm of the night in Dallas Bryan, who gave up one run in the ninth, but still struck out the side.
"Jack's kind of our, you know, come in when there's a mess out there and get us three outs (guy) and that's what he did tonight," Pewitt said. "To be honest, Jack was, that's why we won the game. Jack getting us out of the inning was huge, then Dallas, he was good again tonight. I thought we threw really well."