Two runs were able to come in the eighth inning, but it wasn’t enough for the Wheat City Whiskey Jacks as they fell 4-2 to the Souris Valley Sabre Dogs at Kraft Field on Friday.
“We were really just one big hit away in the right spot from tying or even taking the lead in this game. Obviously, the Sabre Dogs were our first-half champions and they’re a very good team,” Whiskey Jacks head coach Robbie Laughlin said postgame.
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The Sabre Dogs took an early lead but did so facing the strong control of ambidextrous Whiskey Jacks starter Gene Aberoutte. They didn’t record a hit until the third when Ethan Moore slapped an RBI single up the middle and gave Souris Valley a 2-0 lead.
Aberoutte was able to escape some close two-out jams in the first four innings but was looking for some run support via the Whiskey Jacks run creators. Besides a loud single from Jake Hjelle in the bottom of the fourth, which was quickly neutralized by a double play, there were limited at-bats that resulted in strong contact.
“Gene is a very crafty left-handed pitcher when he’s throwing with his left hand,” Laughlin said of his unique starter. “He does a really good job of keeping hitters off-balance with his offspeed and can typically throw those for strikes.”
On the other side of the mound, Kyle Bratset had a very strong outing with seven strikeouts on three hits in the six-inning win.
It wasn’t a completely uneventful day for Hjelle as the East Grand Forks native and UMC infielder was named to the Expedition League All-Star Game.
“It’s kind of different for Jake because up at (Crookston) he bats towards the bottom half of their lineup, typically a six or seven guy for them in the order. Coming in for us, typically hitting in the three or four hole, he’s been able to make some adjustments,” said Laughlin. “I think next year with Crookston losing (Brock) Reller he’s going to be that guy in the three-four hole for them.”
Playing first base tonight, Hjelle currently slashes a .333 average, with 10 doubles and 24 RBIs.
“It means a lot to me obviously. Being picked for the All-Star Game is an honor just by itself, but playing in the hometown in front of all the people that you know and grew up playing in front of just means that much more,” Hjelle said.
He almost played hero in the bottom of the sixth when a powerful blast pulled just a couple of inches foul over the left-field fence. The blast would have put the Jacks within one, but Hjelle would go down on strikes to end the inning.
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes,” he said. “I’ve been getting a lot of offspeed lately, so I figured he’d come with a slider or a curveball. Saw it. Tried to hit it fair, but it just curved foul.”
Fellow Whiskey Jack outfielder Houston Fogelstrom was also added to the Lewis Division team on Thursday. He went one-for-four on the night.
Aberoutte’s final task would be to get out of the seventh with bases loaded and two outs. On a full count, pitching right-handed, he walked in the Sabre Dogs’ fourth run of the night and would end his outing.
Hjelle would collect an RBI in the eighth when a fielder’s choice drove in the second Whiskey Jack run of the inning. The first came on a throwing error during a steal attempt. That would be the end of the offense for Wheat City and for the game.
Souris Valley would close things out in the ninth and take the first game of the series 4-2. This pushes the Whiskey Jacks losing skid to four games heading back to Minot for the second game of the series.
Thompson product and NDSU commit Cadyn Schwabe did not start on Friday for the Sabre Dogs, but was also named to the All-Star team. He is currently leading the Expedition League with a .473 average.
After their series with the Sabre Dogs, the Whiskey Jacks continue their road trip with stops in Dickinson and Pierre, S.D. before returning to Kraft Field Friday, July 16.