FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks couldn't generate any late-inning magic Friday night at Newman Outdoor Field.
The Kansas City Monarchs surged into the lead with a three-run fifth inning and held the RedHawks scoreless after the third inning. That combination helped lift Kansas City to an 8-4 victory in Game 1 of the American Association baseball championship series.
"They were going to be a tough team to keep off the scoreboard," RedHawks manager Chris Coste said. "That’s exactly how it transpired. We’re a team that can explode and put up big innings. We had that one inning where we were able to take a lead. We probably needed one or two more of those situations like we’ve been getting all year.”
The Monarchs took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-5 series. The RedHawks were coming off a dramatic 10-6 victory against the Chicago Dogs in a deciding Game 5 of the North Division championship series. F-M scored 10 runs over its final three at-bats in that game to rally from an early five-run deficit.
The RedHawks couldn't replicate that late-inning production against Kansas City, which swept the Sioux City Explorers in the South Division championship series. The Monarchs remained undefeated in the postseason.
“They’re in the championship series for a reason," Coste said. "They’ve got a good combination of pitching and their offense is strong up and down just like ours.”
The Monarchs pitchers combined to strike out 13 RedHawks batters. Kansas City starter Matt Hall pitched six innings to earn the victory. The left-hander allowed four runs on seven hits, while striking out seven batters and walking two. Right-handed reliever Jeremy Rhoades had four strikeouts in two scoreless innings.
Kansas City scored three runs in the fifth inning to take the lead for good. First baseman Casey Gillaspie sparked the rally with an RBI single and Colin Willis added an RBI double. Gillaspie later scored on a wild pitch to give the Monarchs a 6-4 lead.
Kansas City pushed its lead to 7-4 after Morgan McCullough scored on a wild pitch in the sixth inning. Gillaspie added a sacrifice fly and the Monarchs had an 8-4 lead. KC scored its two runs in the sixth without a hit, drawing three walks in that frame.
“We know with their offense some free passes could hurt, but at the same time they’re a tough team to pitch to because if you just throw it down the middle, it’s going to hit the Fargodome possibly," Coste said.
The RedHawks surged into the lead in the third inning. Third baseman Leo Pina helped spark the rally with a double that moved Jordan George, who reached on a single, to third base. Dylan Kelly followed with an opposite-way, two-run double that gave F-M a 4-3 lead.
The Monarchs built an early lead after No. 2 hitter Ryan Grotjohn belted a two-run home run in the opening inning. Darnell Sweeney followed with a solo home for a 3-0 lead three batters into the game. For a third consecutive game, the RedHawks allowed a multiple-run first inning.
“I felt like we were able to kind of erase that," Coste said. "I think the bigger issue was knowing we had to continue to score every time that they scored. We knew that it was going to be tough to hold them back and they were going to find ways to score a little bit here and a little bit there.”
The RedHawks countered in the bottom half of the first inning after Pina drove in a run on a fielder's choice. Kelly added an RBI single to cut the KC lead to 3-2. Kelly went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to pace the F-M offense.
“They were able to separate with some innings, more than what we did," Coste said.
RedHawks right-hander Bret Helton is scheduled to start Game 2, which is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, at Newman Outdoor Field. The Monarchs are slated to counter with right-hander Justin Shafer.
"Bret Helton needs to go out there and do his thing and he's incredibly motivated to do that," Coste said.