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Duluth Huskies’ designated hitter Vinny Rodriguez raps out a single in the second inning of Sunday’s game against the St. Cloud Rox at Wade Stadium. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Duluth Huskies end season on a high note; team out of playoffs

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The Duluth Huskies did their part down the stretch in an attempt to snag a Northwoods League playoff spot, even winning their season finale against the St. Cloud Rox at Wade Stadium on Sunday, 7-6, in 10 innings.

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However, the 10 victories in the final 12 games proved to not be enough for Duluth (21-15, second half), which needed at least one more win — or a loss by Mankato, Willmar and Waterloo — to claim a piece of the North Division second half title.

“I told the guys, ‘Don’t ever quit, keep working hard, you never know what’s going to happen,’ and the guys did,” Huskies manager Daniel Hersey said. “The guys fought, the guys battled and got better. That’s all we can ask is for those guys to have a good time and continue to get better. They definitely did.”

The Huskies won only nine out of 36 games in the first half of the season and then hovered just below the .500 mark from July 2 through July 29, going 11-13, before getting hot down the stretch.

The players attributed the turnaround to two things: the squad finally developing some chemistry and also having fun on the diamond.

“We just stuck together and really started clicking,” Huskies infielder Alex Christensen said. “I don’t know if there was really one play or game where (the turnaround) happened. We had a really good group of guys. We had a great time. Once we got a few (wins) going, we were just having a blast.”

The Huskies’ regular-season finale — the final game played at Wade Stadium on natural grass before the artificial turf goes in for next season — was almost a microcosm of their 2014 season if not for the end result.

The Sunday afternoon contest started rough for Duluth, with two bobbled balls in the outfield aiding the Rox in taking a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

Then came a promising middle when the Huskies took a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning via RBI doubles by centerfielder Michael Tinsley and catcher Nolan Johnson to tie the game, followed by a go-ahead RBI single from second baseman Nolan Rogers. The Rox retook the lead, 5-4, in the seventh, though, after an error to start the inning led to a pair of Rox runs.

The season finale for the Huskies was on track to end like their regular season until a two-out Rox error allowed infielder Keach Ballard to reach first. Ballard was driven home by right fielder Alex Michaels’ RBI double, however, the Rox retook the lead in the top of the 10th with a leadoff triple and sacrifice fly.

Christensen, who replaced Rogers in the lineup, tied the game in the bottom of the 10th with a two-out RBI double up the middle that brought home designated hitter Vinny Rodriguez. The previous swing by Christensen was thought to be the tying hit, but the ball he sent down the third base line was ruled foul, much to the displeasure of the 2,656 fans at Wade Stadium and Hersey.

“The way the last week or two has gone, we haven’t been out of it until the last out is recorded,” Christensen said. “I knew if I put a good swing on the ball, I could keep the game going.”

Christensen reached third base after a wild pitch, and was driven home by a walk-off RBI single by shortstop Alex Green for the game-winning run.

Greene said it felt good to close the season with a win Sunday, but the Huskies would have liked a playoff berth to go along with the celebration.

“It still feels good,” Green said. “We started off rough, but came together on the field and as a team. We felt close as a team and that helped us out a lot.”

Sunday’s Box Score

Huskies 7, Rox 6 (10 innings)

St. Cloud    Duluth

    ab    r    h    bi        ab    r    h    bi

Lxtrcmp cf    5    1    0    0    Greene ss    6    0    2    1

Kranson 1b    5    1    2    2    Darby lf    5    0    1    0

Vazquez rf    4    1    1    1    Ballard 2b, 3b    5    1    0    0

Ardeeser dh    5    2    2    1    Michaels rf    4    2    4    1

Craig 3b    3    0    0    1    Tinsley cf    5    1    1    1

Heck ss    5    0    3    1    Rodriguez dh    4    1    1    0

Galiano c    5    0    1    0    Johnson c    4    1    3    2

Youngdahl lf    2    0    0    0    Brugnoni 1b, 3b    3    0    1    1

Phillips lf    3    0    1    0    Christensen 1b    2    1    1    1

Gregory 2b    1    0    0    0

Bedford 2b    2    1    1    0

Totals    40    6    11    6    Totals    43    7    15    7

St. Cloud    300    000     200    1 —    6

Duluth    010    300     001    2 —    7

2B — Kranson (11), Vazquez (7), Bedford (7), Michaels 2 (13), Tinsley (13), Johnson (7), Christensen (4). 3B — Ardeeser (2). HP — Michaels (3). SF — Craig (2). SH — Johnson (0). CS — Rogers (3). E — Loxtercamp (5), craig (13), Bedford (4), Greene (21), Tinsley (5). LOB — St. Cloud 10, Duluth 7.

    IP    H    R    ER    BB    SO   

St. Cloud

McCarty    4.0    8    4    4    0    1

Rodgers    2.0    2    0    0    0    1

Denny    1.0    1    0    0    0    0

Burgee (L,5-3)    2.2    4    3    2    1    2

Duluth

Barrow    6.0    5    3    3    2    2

Torres    0.1    1    1    0    0    0

Agnitsch    0.2    1    1    0    1    0

McElderry    1.0    2    0    0    0    0

Goff    0.2    0    0    0    0    0

Rude    0.1    1    1    1    0    0

Folman (W,2-2)    1.0    1    0    0    0    0

WP — Burgee (4). HB — Denny (1).

T — 2:50. A — 2,656.

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