Huskies win to keep playoff hopes aliveIn front of the fifth-largest home crowd in team history, the Duluth Huskies romped past the Eau Claire Express 7-2 Friday night at Wade Stadium for their fifth straight win to keep their playoff hopes alive with two games remaining.
By: Louie St. George III, Duluth News Tribune
A week ago the Duluth Huskies were in danger of missing the Northwoods League playoffs for the sixth consecutive season after a disheartening come-from-ahead loss in Mankato.
Look at ’em now.
In front of the fifth-largest home crowd in team history, the Huskies romped past the Eau Claire Express 7-2 Friday night at Wade Stadium for their fifth straight win. In the process, they chiseled their magic number to 1, meaning the Huskies need only a win in one of their final two regular-season games, in Rochester, or a Willmar loss to return to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
“That was our goal at the beginning of the year, making the playoffs,” outfielder Brad Wilson said minutes after the post-game fireworks. “It’s been in the back of our minds the whole year … trying to bring it back to Duluth.”
Wilson had three hits and two RBIs as the Huskies (21-12 in the second half, 41-27 overall) pounded out 14 hits. After falling behind 1-0 in the top of the third, Duluth scored six unanswered runs. Wilson laced an RBI double into the left-field corner in the seventh to stretch the lead to 4-1, much to the delight of the 3,963 fans who came hoping to see the red-hot Huskies secure a playoff berth.
That, however, will have to wait at least one more day thanks to Willmar’s 13-3 win over Green Bay.
“It would have been awesome to wrap it up in front of these awesome fans, but we’re not gonna sweat it,” Duluth manager Daniel Hersey said. “We just gotta continue to win. These last few games are huge, and we just gotta win and see what happens.”
While the Huskies’ relentless offense has carried them for much of the season, Friday’s starter, Luke Vandermaten, and reliever T.J. Nowak didn’t need much support. Vandermaten scattered five hits over six innings while striking out six and allowing one run, and Nowak fanned six in three innings — his first five outs were strikeouts. Nowak allowed Jose Vizcaino’s solo homer to left in the eighth, but it was too little, too late for Eau Claire (20-14, 32-36).
The Huskies’ recent surge follows a lengthy road trip that ended Monday in Mankato. A day before, Duluth wasted an early 3-0 lead en route to a 7-5 loss.
The Huskies, though, regrouped — aided, perhaps, by strong home crowds throughout the week.
“The long road trip, I think it kind of wore on us a little bit,” Wilson said. “This last week we kind of flipped the switch and felt like we kind of caught our second wind.”
Wilson’s teammate, Jered Meek, said increased fan support the past week gave the Huskies a boost.
“The atmosphere’s been awesome around here,” third baseman Meek said. “Everybody’s on board and ready to go.”
That includes Huskies owner Michael Rosenzweig, who strode the walkway directly in front of the first row in the top of the ninth urging fans to their feet. They obliged, and when Nowak, after an eight-pitch at-bat, finally got Eau Claire’s Tim Zier to fly out to Duluth second baseman Connor Szczerba for the game’s final out, the crowd exploded.
Now, the Huskies head to Rochester needing a lone win against the Honkers.
“Two games to get one,” first baseman Trey Vavra said.