The St. Paul Saints had done almost nothing in three previous contests against Sioux Falls Canaries ace Joe Bircher this season, scoring just three-total runs in his three starts. However, they would rock the lefty on this night, thanks to three-homers, two off the bat of Tanner Lubach, in the 10-5 victory. Lubach not only homered twice, but reached in all four of his plate appearances and Nate Hanson drove in two in the victory.
The Sioux Falls Canaries would take the lead in the top of the first inning. Saints starter Benji Waite struck out the first batter of the game, but then gave up a base hit to Ty Morrison. Next up was Burt Reynolds, who fell behind 1-2 before crushing a pitch over the right field wall for his 12th homer of the season. It also gave him a homer in back-to-back nights against St. Paul.
The Saints responded right away in the bottom half of the inning. Joe Bircher retired the first batter he faced but Breland Almadova reached with a little flare into right field. Next up was Nate Hanson, who drilled a 1-0 pitch over the wall in left for his 12th homer of the year. That tied the score at two.
In the second, St. Paul took the lead. Bircher retired the first two batters of the inning, but Tanner Lubach gave his team the lead when he drilled his first home run of the season deep over the wall in right-center to make it 3-2. The Saints had only scored three-runs in 19-innings against Bircher this season prior to the start, but already had that many two-innings into Friday night’s contest.
Two innings later, St. Paul extended their lead. Kes Carter led off the inning by hitting a high fly ball into right field. It hit about 8 feet up the wall and then bounced toward the infield. That allowed Carter to race all the way into third with a stand-up triple. Mitch Delfino followed with a sacrifice fly and the Saints lead was two.
The lead did not last long, however. In the top of the fifth, the Canaries tied the score. Aaron Gretz singled to start the inning and moved to second when Blake Schmit walked. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position and Gretz came home on a ground out to make it 4-3. With Schmit at third, the ball got past the Saints catcher for a passed ball, allowing Schmit to score and the game was tied.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Saints took back the lead and chased Bircher from the game. Carter led off with a double down the line in left. He moved to third on a lined single to center by Delfino and Lubach followed by drawing a walk to load the bases with no one out.
Bircher was relieved by Dylan Thompson but he did not have the answers on how to end the threat. JJ Gould greeted the reliever with a base hit to left that brought home Carter and gave St. Paul back the lead. Danny Oh then singled to center, bringing home Delfino and it was 6-4 Saints. Tim Colwell pinch hit and drew a five-pitch walk to bring home the third run of the frame. Thompson was laboring, but he got a double-play grounder that brought home Gould, before Anthony Gallas grounded out to end the inning. However, the Saints took an 8-4 lead.
In the seventh, one swing of the bat put St. Paul up by six. Tony Thomas started the inning by grounding a single into left. Nicco Blank retired the next two hitters, but Lubach worked the count full before drilling his second homer of the game, a shot over the wall in left-center to make it 10-4.
In the ninth, the Canaries added one more run. Trey Vavra led off with a fly ball into left-center that hit off the left fielder’s glove for a three-base error. He later came home on a sacrifice fly by Blake Schmit for the final run of the game.
Brandon Peterson (4-2) earned the victory with 2-scoreless innings of relief. Tanner Lubach finished 2-2 with 3-runs scored, 3-RBI and 2-walks. Nate Hanson was 2-5 with a run and 2-RBI. Kes Carter was 2-5 with 2-runs scored. Sioux Falls was led by Burt Reynolds who was 2-3 with a run and 2-RBI.
Game 3 of the this four-game series is set for Saturday evening. Jason Hoppe (0-0, 4.91) goes for St. Paul. Bo Hellguist (1-1, 3.25) gets the nod for the Canaries. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier