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Northwoods League: Huskies set up winner-take-all showdown

The Duluth Huskies celebrate as Sean Watkins (56) comes in from scoring a run against the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders at Wade Stadium on Thursday in Game 2 of the Summer Collegiate World Series. The Huskies defeated the Dock Spiders 8-1 to even the series at 1-1. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)1 / 2
General McArthur of the Duluth Huskies is hit by a wild pitch by the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders at Wade Stadium on Thursday during Game 2 of the Summer Collegiate World Series. McArthur was one of several Huskies hit by wild pitches during the game. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 2

The Duluth Huskies had some long faces on the bus ride home from Fond du Lac, Wis., arriving in Duluth at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning, but it wasn’t just because they were shut out for the first time all season.

“They were just tired,” manager Tyger Pederson said.

The Huskies hadn’t played at home since Aug. 5, and boy, they were looking forward to it.

Jack Corbell pitched seven strong innings to lead the Huskies to an 8-1 victory over the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders in Game 2 of the Summer Collegiate World Series before a boisterous crowd of 1,079 at Wade Stadium.

The winner-take-all Game 3 is at 7:05 p.m. today at Wade Stadium, with the Huskies chasing their first title in three Northwoods League title appearances.

“It was electric, it was awesome,” said Corbell, a Miami (Ohio) right-hander who gave up five hits and four walks while striking out two. “Honestly, every time I got an out, I could hear the roar and was like, ‘This is fun.’ I loved it.”

Attendance is figured differently during the playoffs compared to the regular season, with no pre-sales or extras counted, so that attendance number can be a bit deceiving. They were loud and into it from start to finish as the great majority stuck around to watch Hunter Bigge mow down the side in the ninth.

“Corbell shoved it today,” Pederson said. “He came in and did what he was supposed to do, and then Bigge came in and closed the door, topping out at 95 (mph). The kids are competitors, and both those guys did exactly what we wanted them to do.”

It took the Huskies only nine hits to manufacture the eight runs thanks to five walks and three hit batters.

Northwoods League MVP Augie Isaacson had two hits and four RBIs to pace Duluth (50-26). Tony Monroy had two hits, two runs and two RBIs, while General McArthur chipped in two hits and two runs. Jacob Adams was the only player in multiple hits with two for Fond du Lac (42-32).

“It’s going to be fun, no matter what happens,” Fond du Lac manager Zac Charbonneau said of today’s season finale. “These guys play hard for school, but this is something special. They’ve been together all summer, making lifelong friends, and they’ll remember it.”

An old baseball adage says that good pitching always trumps good hitting, and the Huskies found that out the hard way Wednesday as Wisconsin-La Crosse product Connor Cook shut them out for the first time this season with a three-hitter with seven strikeouts.

That put the Huskies in a tough position, but Pederson, in his first year with the club, wasn’t concerned.

“I’ve always had faith in these guys,” he said. “They know I’ve had their back from Day 1.”

The Dock Spiders led the Northwoods League during the regular season with a 3.59 ERA, but the Huskies weren’t far behind at 3.86 while also leading the league with 623 strikeouts, second most ever in a season. On the flip side, with a speedy offensive group that plays fastbreak baseball, the Huskies led the league in runs (460) and stolen bases (167).

When you can pitch, hit and play tough defense, that’s a tough combination.

“We’re a big offensive team and don’t talk as much about our pitching, but we’ve had some games where it’s just been absolute dominance on the mound,” Corbell said “We might get overlooked but then all of the sudden, in games like this, with this atmosphere, people start to notice, we can pitch.”

High praise

Baseball fan Jon Winter has attended every Huskies and Duluth-Superior Dukes home baseball game since the reincarnation of the old Northern League in 1993.

That’s a span of 1,007 games, and who knows how much lousy weather he’s endured. And during that time, Winter enjoyed a pair of Northern League championship teams in 1997 and 2000, and a pair of NWL World Series runner-up teams in 2004 and 2013, but he said no season has been as enjoyable as this one.

“They’re just so fun to watch,” Winter said. “Obviously, they’ve got great team speed, and defensively, they might be the best overall fielding team I’ve seen, and that includes the Dukes.”

That’s high praise considering the Dukes were professionals.

Now, it all comes down to one game to determine if this will be the first Huskies team to be crowned Northwoods League champions.

“I really hope people come out to see a special team play in a special game,” Winter said.

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