Pat’s pulls above .500

L’ANSE – It rained hard before and after Thursday’s Twilight League game in L’Anse, and in between, Pat’s Foods rained on the Lakers’ parade.

The visitors had everything working: Lee Naugle racked up 13 strikeouts from the mound, all but two batters tallied at least one RBI and Pat’s Foods coasted to a convincing 9-3 win – its third in a row – over L’Anse.

“It was pretty huge,” Pat’s manager Marco Guidotti said. “We were right in there with L’Anse close in the standings. Coming to the last few games of the year, this was pretty big.”

Pat’s improves to 5-4 – surpassing its 2012 win total, in six fewer games – while L’Anse falls to 3-7, a half game behind Mosquito Inn-Toivola in last place. With five teams in the league, last place will miss the playoffs, and L’Anse and Toivola are primed for a critical match-up next Tuesday in the final week of the regular season.

“We made some errors that we can’t have this late in the season. It cost us,” L’Anse manager Larry Lindlbauer said. “They’re just huge this time of year, and we just couldn’t get the bats going – their pitcher was good. It was a classic case of not enough runs and too many errors.

” This puts the pressure on us.”

Naugle, who also had 13 strikeouts in a June 7 win over Toivola, put pressure on the Lakers all night long with a dominant three-pitch repertoire. He was locating his rocket fastball – Lindlbauer said it was the best he’s seen this year – commanding his curveball and experimenting successfully with a new splitter.

“It’s kind of nice to have a 1-2-3 instead of a mostly a 1-2, so it adds a little more punch,” said Naugle, who now has registered 50 strikeouts against just 34 hits in 32 innings of work this year. “Mixing my pitches was definitely a good thing. I felt like my curveball was really good. Some days it’s a little off and I wasn’t throwing it as much, but it was definitely on tonight, and it definitely threw them off.”

While Naugle would have baffled most lineups with his stuff Thursday, L’Anse was missing its regular Nos. 1 and 4 hitters, Alex VanWagner and Tyler LaDuron, to Legion baseball. Accordingly, the Lakers’ 1-through-4 hitters were just 3 for 15 with 6 strikeouts and only one RBI. Pat’s Foods’ 1-4 hitters, by comparison, were 7 for 17 with seven RBIs.

While Pat’s never trailed in the game, the score was just 2-1 after three innings. Naugle and Zach Hill registered RBIs in back-to-back first-inning at-bats against Lakers pitcher Kris Turunen, and L’Anse’s Cody Goodreau trimmed the deficit in half with an RBI single that bounced just shy of the right-field fence.

But then the bottom of the Pat’s lineup came through, as Clint Heikkila opened the top of the fourth inning with a double down the left-field line. After an out, Brent Jurmu drilled an RBI single to center, Guidotti was hit by a pitch, Devin Kero loaded the bases with a bunt single and, after an infield fly for the second out, Andrew Ewer cleared the bases with a seeing-eye opposite-field single curving toward the right-field line. Just like that, 6-1 Pat’s.

L’Anse threatened to answer by putting two men on in the bottom of the fourth, only for Brett Martinez to get caught stealing third base for the final out.

Martinez redeemed himself two innings later with an RBI bloop single to right field that drove in Goodreau, and Martinez came around to score later on a passed ball, making the score 7-3 going into the final inning.

Kero, who was 4 for 5 in the game as Pat’s leadoff hitter, put the game out of reach with a two-RBI single to center in the seventh frame. Naugle clinched his third pitching win of the season in the bottom of the inning, striking out the first two he faced and tossing to first to complete a game-ending groundout.