Duluth Huskies win playoff openerThe Duluth Huskies held on for a 5-2 Northwoods League North Division baseball playoff victory over the Waterloo Bucks before a vocal crowd of 1,087 at Wade Stadium on Monday.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
When Duluth Huskies relief pitcher Nate Carter trotted out to the mound on Monday night at Wade Stadium, he saw Waterloo Bucks players all around him.
The bases were loaded, nobody was out and the Huskies were clinging to a two-run lead in the eighth inning.
“That’s a closer’s nightmare, right there,” Carter said.
Carter proved to be a Duluth fan’s dream, retiring all six batters he faced in dominating fashion as the Huskies held on for a 5-2 Northwoods League North Division baseball playoff victory before a vocal crowd of 1,087.
Duluth travels to Waterloo, Iowa, today for the second game in their best-of-three divisional series. Game 3, if necessary, would be in Waterloo on Wednesday.
“That was a huge win for us,” said Carter, a two-time Northwoods League All-Star. “I just live for those situations. I wake up every morning wanting to come in later that night and finish up a game, especially the way all our guys worked so hard to put me in that position. We’re hot right now.”
Duluth has won eight straight but Monday’s win was particularly impressive given the way Waterloo has dominated opponents. The Bucks set a league record for wins during the regular season and are now 51-20 overall after losing three straight for the first time all season.
At 44-27, the Huskies aren’t too far behind and have given Waterloo fits this year, with a 7-2 mark against them this summer.
Waterloo jumped to an early 2-0 lead on Monday against Huskies’ ace Clay Chapman before Duluth chipped back with a run in the fifth and three more in the seventh, taking advantage of two hits, two walks and a wild pitch. Kyle Teaf led the way with three hits for Duluth, while Waterloo was held to four hits by four Huskies pitchers. The teams combined on five errors.
“Obviously, the guys are dealing with extra nerves in the playoffs, but they settled down and came through when we needed them to,” Huskies coach Daniel Hersey said. “The pitching was good early and then Nate Carter was huge on the back end for us. He worked hard to regain his form and is definitely our go-to-guy at the end.”
Things got interesting in the top of the eighth when the Bucks loaded the bases with a walk, a hit and a poor decision on a fielder’s choice to load the bases. In stepped Carter, who promptly struck out the first two batters and then got Will Sparks to pop out to end the threat.
“I talked to the guys about taking care of what you can take care of, but right now, we’re really struggling at getting these guys in when we need to,” Waterloo coach Travis Kiewiet said. “I don’t know if they’re waiting for somebody else to do it or what. They’re getting good swings on it but just can’t get them in for hits. We’ll see how our guys respond at home.”
Carter struck out the first two batters in the ninth inning on three pitches each and then got Chesny Young to fly out to end the game.
Carter, of Florida Southern, struggled early this year after getting shelled in a couple outings. Huskies pitching coach Kevin Brockway noticed a change in Carter’s mechanics from last summer, with the pitcher coming in with more of a sidearm motion than is suitable for the 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander. After some mid-relief work, Carter assumed his rightful place back in the closer’s job.
“It’s like I was a different pitcher, but Coach Brockway came back and was like, ‘What are you doing?’” Carter said. “Coach Brockway got me fixed.
“I was thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. What’s going on?’ I was second-guessing myself and things started snowballing, but I learned to start trusting my stuff again. I always knew I had it in me. I just had to find it again.”
Radatz takes in game
Northwoods League president Dick Radatz Jr. was in attendance at Monday’s game and was impressed with Carter.
“Carter was fired up and throwing really hard, and I thought there was great energy from the crowd,” Radatz said. “It never ceases to amaze me the talent level in the league, and that closer is a great example of that.”
Radatz said rough field conditions aren’t unusual this time of a year, and with a lack of rain and some hard hops, the five errors on Wednesday were not that unusual. He said most of the ballparks in the league suffered from an extended spring this year.
“Obviously, you can still see the remnants of a tough spring. It chewed up a lot of places but you can see Wade Stadium is starting to recover,” Radatz said. “Wade Stadium is a historical place, and everywhere I go, people say the same thing: it’s the finest place in America to watch a game. If you get a crowd in there on a nice day, it’s a fun place to watch baseball.”