FARGO-The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks have hit a critical stretch in their drive for the American Association baseball postseason.
The stretch started Monday night at Newman Outdoor Field against the Sioux City Explorers, who have the best record in the league.
"Every game is critical from here on out," RedHawks manager Michael Schlact said. "We're in that final run here. The schedule isn't easy."
The RedHawks used a five-run third inning to fuel a 7-3 victory against the Explorers before 3,153 fans.
The RedHawks are in third place in the North Division standings, behind the St. Paul Saints and Gary SouthShore, with 15 games remaining in the regular season. The top two teams in each division make the American Association playoffs. F-M (47-38) is a game behind Gary for second place in the North.
Monday's game against the Explorers started a critical seven-game stretch that includes three games against Sioux City. F-M then heads to Gary for a four-game series, which starts Thursday with a doubleheader at U.S. Steel Yard.
"Going to Gary is a big series, but this Sioux City series is a pretty big one, too," RedHawks center fielder Devan Ahart said. "It gives us a nice challenge. It's kind of a playoff atmosphere."
The Explorers (63-23) have been the class of the American Association this season, the only team to have 60-plus wins.
Sioux City built an early three-run lead before the RedHawks answered with a big rally in the third inning. After the first two F-M batters were retired in the third, Tim Colwell and Brennan Metzger drew back-to-back walks to start the rally. Ahart followed with an RBI single to score Colwell from second base. Leo Pina then plated two runs with a triple to tie the score at 3-3. RedHawks designated hitter Keury De La Cruz put an exclamation on the inning with a two-run home run that gave his team a 5-3 lead.
Charlie Valerio added a two-run single in the eighth inning that gave F-M a 7-3 lead.
The RedHawks were missing two key players Monday. First baseman Chris Jacobs was out for a third consecutive game with a lower-leg injury. Infielder Maikol Gonzalez was also out of the lineup with a finger injury.
"Everybody in that locker room is capable of doing their jobs," said Ahart, who had three hits and scored two runs Monday. "One guy goes down, the next guy is up. Like the football mentality."
Sioux City scored three runs in the second inning to build a 3-0 lead. Explorers center fielder Luis Durango capped the rally with two-out, two run single.
RedHawks starter D.J. Brown settled in after that, holding Sioux City scoreless for the next five innings. Brown left the game after he hit Explorers first baseman Dean Green with a pitch to lead off the eighth inning. Brown pitched seven-plus innings, allowing three runs on six hits, while striking out four batters and walking three to earn the victory.
"We need to take advantage of every game that we can," Schlact said. "We're definitely in that playoff push. We're in the hunt."