Getting hot: Pat’s Foods tops State Farm for 3rd win in last 4 games after starting 0-5

HANCOCK – Sometimes in sports, when a team loses a key player, the remaining players rally around their fallen comrade. Such is the case with Pat’s Food/Mosquito Inn.

After starting the season 0-5, Pat’s saw player-manager Rexx Janowiak go down with a broken ankle in a game against Superior National Bank-Stanton. Since the injury, Pat’s has rallied to go 3-1 over its last four games after earning a 9-6 victory Tuesday night over Dean Kangas State Farm at the Hancock Driving Park.

Without their manager, it has become a struggle for Pat’s to find enough players to compete, but those that make it have proven scrappy when needed.

“Rexx is here in our hearts, that’s for sure,” said Pat’s infielder Nick Bolton. “We miss Rexx and we have been scrapping to get some guys together for some of these games. The last couple of games, we have played with just nine, but the nine guys who have shown up have been playing really hard.”

After struggling early on against State Farm starter Owen Kariniemi, the Pat’s bats settled in over the remaining six innings to twice battle back from multi-run deficits to finally take the lead in the top of fifth.

“We have guys playing in positions they don’t normally play in,” Bolton. “They are making great plays.

“Some of the balls haven’t been falling for us in the beginning half of the season. Tonight was the night where we got some of those 50-50 balls to go our way… It feels like the team is coming together and we are all buying in, which is nice.”

Despite how well Pat’s played, however, things could have gone off the rails in the bottom of the seventh.

Trailing by three runs, State Farm (4-5) got to work.

After Jason Koski flew out, Brady Turner picked up his team-high third single of the night. Dave Wesa followed with a single down the left field line. After player-manager Brian Juopperi flew out, Kyle Storm singled to load the bases.

Brooks settled in to face T.J. Kilpela, who already had one single on the night. Unfortunately, he could not pick up a second as Brooks got him to fly out to end the game.

The inning felt like a microcosm of the streak State Farm has been on as a whole as the loss became the third in a row for State Farm.

“We started out hot and we were hitting the ball the first couple of innings,” said Brian Juopperi. “[I’m] a little disappointed in our defense tonight. It just wasn’t there.”

State Farm started the game strong. Turner singled to lead off the bottom of the first inning. Brian Juopperi singled. Two batters later, Kilpela tripled down the right field line, scoring both baserunners.

Looking to even things up, Pat’s did just that in the top of the second. Brooks led off with a single. Dan Wood walked. A passed ball by Kariniemi allowed the runners to move into scoring position.

Jake Bolton hit a sacrifice fly to score Brooks.

Ross Kinnunen reached on a throwing error. Wood scored on the play to even the game.

State Farm recovered strongly in the bottom half of the inning.

Dan Juopperi opened with a single. Scott Pietila followed with single of his own, advancing Juopperi to third. Turner singled to score Juopperi from third. Wesa walked. Brian Juopperi hit a sacrifice fly, bringing Pietila home. Storm singled to bring Turner and Wesa home and give the hosts a 6-2 lead.

Pat’s struck three times in the top of the third to pull back within one, 6-5.

It all started when Ed Knoch was deemed safe thanks to a throwing error. Nick Bolton hit a ground rule double to center, bringing Knoch home. Bolton scored on a wild pitch. Brooks walked and eventually scored on a passed ball for the third score of the inning..

Things remained that way until the top of the fifth, when Pat’s broke through again. Nick Bolton singled. A wild pitch moved him to second. Justin Kirby followed with a single to center. A passed ball moved both runners into scoring position.

Brooks walked to load the bases. Wood singled to center, scoring Nick Bolton. Jake Bolton reached on a fielder’s choice, scoring Kirby. Kinnunen singled to put runners on the corners after Wood was thrown out at home. A wild pitch brought Jake Bolton home to give Pat’s the 8-6 lead.

Knoch picked up his first hit of the night for Pat’s in the top of the sixth. The hit was huge as he managed a triple down the left field line, putting himself just 90 feet from home. A wild pitch from Kariniemi allowed Knoch to extend Pat’s lead to 9-6.