Steve Nikorak Goes Deep Twice to Lead St. Paul Saints to 15-4 Victory
A jubilant St. Paul Saints bench could not be happier to see Steve Nikorak hit two home runs for the first time in his career Monday night. It was the culmination of one of the most amazing stories for the Saints in a season full of unbelievable stories. The St. Paul third baseman helped the club defeat the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks 15-4, giving the club its 29th road win, tying a 2007 franchise record.
Just a little over a month ago, Nikorak was hit in the face by a pitch from Tyler Herron that left him bleeding and in agony at home plate of Newman Outdoor Field. Nikorak had nine broken bones in his face, and the club was convinced that his season was over. But the 25-year-old battled his way back with sure courage and found himself on the field a little over a month after the incident.
On Monday night Nikorak faced Herron for the first time since that day. The Saints third baseman has handled the entire incident with class, and this night his perseverance was rewarded with a career night that only added to the legend of his return.
Before Nikorak’s heroics began the St. Paul Saints were doing some damage to the ERA of the Fargo-Moorhead starter. Herron retired the first two hitters of the first inning, then he gave up a single to Vinny DiFazio before hitting Angelo Songco to put two on with two outs. Next up was Mike Kvasnicka, who doubled, driving home both runners and staking his club to a 2-0 lead.
The RedHawks got one of those runs back in the bottom of the first against Saints starter Pedro Hernandez. Zach Penprase took a 2-2 offering from the lefty and drilled it for his fourth home run of the season to make it 2-1.
In the top of the second the Saints do what they do best – respond. Following the Penprase home run, Nikorak opened the inning with a walk and scored when Anthony Phillips drilled a pitch to the wall that he legged into a triple. A Dan Kaczrowski ground out scored Phillips to make it 4-1. Alonzo Harris reached on an error and promptly stole his 27th base of the season. Willie Argo then walked to put two on with one out, and DiFazio loaded the bases when he drew a walk. Next up came Angelo Songco, who drilled a ball to the wall in right-center that cleared the bases and gave the Saints first baseman his sixth triple of the season, putting him tied for third in the American Association.
Hernandez would keep the RedHawks off the board in the second and third innings, but in the fourth they would add a run. Chad Mozingo doubled with one out and moved to third on a Joe Bonfe single. Joe Dunigan drove Mozingo home with a single to make it 7-2.
Like they had done in the top of the second, the St. Paul Saints responded to the run with four of their own in the top of the fifth. Lashley led off the inning by reaching on an error and Nikorak followed with his third home run of the season. Herron was able to retire the next two hitters, but Harris kept the inning alive by drawing a walk. Argo reached on a walk as well, and DiFazio doubled to score both runners. That would be it for Herron. Benji Waite relieved and was able to retire the final hitter of the inning to keep the score 11-2.
Penprase led off the top of the sixth with his second home run of the game. The sixth would wind up being Hernandez’s final inning of the game. The left-hander moved his record to 7-2, with six quality innings of work. He allowed 5 hits and 3 runs, while not allowing a walk and striking out 4. Of his 83 pitches, 56 went for strikes.
In the eighth the home club would add one more run. Tyler Peterson led off the inning with a single and Connor Andrus was hit by Chris Peacock to put two on with no one out. Penprase hit into a fielder’s choice that put runners at the corners. A ground out by Taylor Oldham scored the final runner of the game for the RedHawks, and made it 11-4.
The run in the eighth awakened the sleeping giants, who added four more runs in the top half of the ninth. Nikorak was the first hitter of the inning, and he turned on a 2-1 pitch and clubbed it for his second shot of the game. The bench erupted and welcomed him back from his home run trot with high fives. Phillips followed the Nikorak shot with a base hit, and two batters later Harris singled. Argo walked to load the bases, and DiFazio’s single scored Phillips and Harris. Joey Paciorek’s sacrifice fly brought home Argo with the final run of the game.
Nikorak finished the game 2-4 with 3 runs scored and 3 RBI. Joining him in the hit parade was DiFazio, who went 3-4 with 2 runs and 4 RBI. Willie Argo scored 3 runs and walked 4 times. Harris also scored 3 times, and Phillips went 2-5 with 2 runs scored and an RBI. About the only disappointing part of the game was that Dan Kaczrowski’s 16-game hitting streak came to an end.
The St. Paul Saints have Tuesday off before welcoming the Lincoln Saltdogs back to town for a three-game series.
By Robert Pannier