2014 Northwoods League Playoff Matchups are Set
Mankato to take on Willmar in the North and Wisconsin will battle Lakeshore in the South
By Bradley Smart, Northwoods League Media Relations
Rochester, Minn. – Playoff baseball is upon us, meaning the regular season is complete – 72 games played by 18 teams – all who started with a chance of being one of the final four standing at the end of the summer. This summer, fans of the Northwoods league have been treated to long winning and losing streaks, 40 straight games of making it on base, 16 inning games and doubleheaders galore. They saw Waterloo come oh-so-close to a playoff berth, finishing a half game out in both of the halves.
However, that was yesterday, and we move on to the next stage. The postseason. Four teams – Lakeshore, Mankato, Willmar and Wisconsin – will begin to battle in an attempt to become the 21st champion in Northwoods League history.
It starts in the South, as the Chinooks and Woodchucks do battle. Lakeshore, wire-to-wire winners, became the third team to hit 50 wins, falling just shy of the league record of 51, set by the Bucks in 2013. Wisconsin, on the other hand, fought off Kenosha and picked up a crucial win on the last day of the season to punch their ticket to the next round.
The Chinooks are the strongest team in the tourney right now, posting a team ERA of 2.92 – a mark that lead the league by 66 points. They boast a potent offensive attack, anchored by Jake Noll (FGCU), who leads the team with a .316 average, and Brett Siddall (Canisius), who has driven in a team-high 43 runs. Siddall has also hit nine home runs, a mark that leads the team.
The pitching is Lakeshore's strength, as their top four starters have been dominant – combining for a 2.83 ERA. The front of the rotation combo of Evan Kruckzynski (East Carolina) and Shaun Anderson (Florida) have carried the Chinooks, who are 16-5 when one of the two pitch. The bullpen is arguably even better, as they have a 35-1 record when leading after five innings – almost spotless. It's led by Jake Tuttle (UW-Milwaukee), who hasn't allowed a run over 26 innings.
They'll face off against the Wisconsin Woodchucks, who closed out the season with a two-game winning streak and finished with seven wins in their last ten games. They're led by an offense that ranks sixth in average and second in home runs while their pitching staff has a league-high 569 strikeouts.
The Woodchucks feature one of the most dangerous hitters in the Northwoods, power-hitting third basemen Paul DeJong (Illinois St). DeJong tied Shaun Cooper's 2011 record for most home runs in the season with 20, with the tying shot the deciding factor in Wisconsin's 9-7 series finale win over Thunder Bay. He drove in 61 runs, good for sixth in the single-season record books.
Hitting is the Woodchucks strength, as DeJong is joined by the duo of Brendon Hayden (Virginia Tech) and Nate Mondou (Wake Forest). Hayden is hitting a team-high .317, while Mondou is just a hair below .300. Hayden has also clubbed eight of Wisconsin's 50 blasts.
Lakeshore is making their second consecutive trip to the playoffs, a summer after being eliminated by eventual champion Madison. It's just their third year in the league, and they're attempting to make a first appearance in the championship by downing the two-time champion Woodchucks. Wisconsin won in 2001 and 2003, and have made six appearances.
On the other side of the bracket, first-half champions Willmar square off against Mankato, who beat out Duluth and Waterloo for the second spot. The Stingers went 22-8 in the first half and finished twenty games above .500 at 46-26, four games better than the MoonDogs.
This series could be an offensive one, as Willmar and Mankato rank second and third in team average – but they also rank third and fourth in team ERA. These are two of the more well-rounded teams in the playoffs, balancing a strong offense with an equally strong pitching staff.
Willmar's talented offense is led by the duo of first basemen Reagan Fowler (Creighton) and outfielder Jack Ross (Pepperdine). Ross doesn't qualify for the batting title, as he's only played in 41 games, but the speedster is hitting .361 with 12 stolen bases, while Fowler has 17 doubles and is hitting .315.
The staff is anchored by Andrew Towns (Walters St), who is fifth in the league in strikeouts with 55 in 68 innings of work. The big southpaw, an All-Star, is joined by fellow all-star Brady Anderson (FGCU) and AJ Puckett (Pepperdine), who have a combined ERA of 2.78 over almost 100 innings of work.
They'll have their hands full with the dangerous Mankato duo of Tyler Sullivan (Pacific) and Peter Maris (UC Santa Barbara). Sullivan played in all but three MoonDogs games and posted an impressive .352 average and was named an All-Star and a member of the Big League Dreams Showcase. Maris was as well, hitting .337 in 41 games.
The MoonDogs bullpen is very strong, anchored by a closer duo of Tyler Mark (Cal St. Dominguez Hills) and Jacob Westerhouse (North Alabama), who combined for 16 saves. Mark allowed just two earned runs over 20 relief appearances, while Westerhouse posted a 2.66 ERA. The rotation is led by Dillon Williams (Shelton St), who has a 2.70 ERA over 53 innings. He hurled 6.2 shutout innings against the Stingers on August 6 in a Mankato win.
The MoonDogs seek to advance to the championship for the third time in the last four years. They still have yet to win, however, as they've fallen to both Battle Creek and La Crosse. Willmar is also looking for their first title after being knocked out in the first round in their only playoff appearance back in 2012.
The playoffs are underway tonight, with both games starting at 7:05. Mankato hosts the Stingers at "The Frank", while Lakeshore travels to Wisconsin to play against the Woodchucks at Athletic Park.
The Northwoods League is the proven leader in the development of elite college baseball players. The 21-year old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, 120 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (DET) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (WAS), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Allen Craig (STL) and Ben Zobrist (TB). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League YouTube channel. For more information, visit www.northwoodsleague.com.