Ryan Casillas thought he’d put the game away with a three-run blast in the fifth.
Turns out, the pitching-short Thunder Bay Border Cats needed his help again, after nearly squandering a 10-run lead Sunday at Subway Field.
Casillas, returning to the Cats for a second season, plated Michael Foster with an insurance run in the eighth, giving the Cats emergency closer the cushion he needed to preserve a wild 13-11 win over the visiting Willmar Stingers.
Foster, the fifth Thunder Bay pitcher of the contest, earned his second straight save, as the Cats improved to 2-3 on the young Northwoods League season, striking out a pair in the ninth to put the Stingers on ice.
Foster, who started the game as the designated hitter, finished 4-for-5 with three runs scored, singling each of his first four trips to the plate. He also scored four times.
“We battled back the whole game there,” said Casillas, making his 2013 debut with the Cats, a season after hitting .269 with a pair of dingers in his first go-around in Thunder Bay.
“We just needed the pitching to keep us in it a little bit and I felt like we did the whole game, so it wasn’t that hard to get a little more insurance there at the end.”
He might have given a little too much credit to the bullpen, which took a bit of a beating after starter Clint Knoblauch left after four, the victim of a strict pitch count.
Up 12-2 through five, the Cats were on cruise control until the seventh, when the bottom all but fell out on reliever Kyle Cornett.
Cornett (W, 1-0), who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth when Willmar’s Tyler Leffler grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, was torched in the fifth, hitting two batters, walking one and surrendering five hits that led to six Willmar runs.
Kregg Snooks, who took over, fared no better, the key blow a Jake Gronsky single that scored a pair of runs, pulling the Stingers to within two, trailing 12-10.
John Havird stopped the free fall, striking out Marc Flores to end the threat.
But Havird made things interesting in the eighth, hitting Michael Suchy, who came home on a Max Kuhn double to centre, the first batter to face Foster who came on to close out the contest.
“It was definitely great getting out to the offensive start we got off to, putting up 12 runs early. It’s great to see our offense clicking now,” said Cats manager Dan Holcomb. “It was a little rough in the middle there. We gave them one big inning and we had to throw a couple of pitchers we didn’t think we’d have to today.
“But it was definitely a team effort. Everyone got some playing time. We were out of position players by the end of the game. It was a little stressful for our guys, but we pulled it out in the end.”
Thunder Bay scored three runs in the first, adding a fourth in the second on a Foster RBI single. After the Stingers struck back with a pair in the fourth, keyed by an Alex Bautista fielding error in right, the Cats proceeded to add eight more runs over the course of their next two at bats.
Bautista walked with the bases full to score Foster, then, with the bases loaded again, Jacob Rogers smacked a single that scored two more.
Willmar (2-3) found themselves in early pitching trouble. Starter Zach Tillbery was forced to leave the game after one inning, victim of the league’s 35-pitch maximum in any given frame.
Replacement Colton Bottomley lasted just two innings, surrendering four runs on four hit, one run fewer than Alabama’s Cody Hughes, who gave up five in three innings of work.
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