Filter:

The 2015 Northwoods League Playoff Preview

By: Dominic Etue, Northwoods League

Rochester, Minn. – As the 2015 Northwoods League Playoffs get underway today, eight of the best teams the league has to offer go head-to-head throughout this week, determining who will wear the crown this season.

In the North Division, the second-half champion St. Cloud Rox will host the Rochester Honkers, while the Willmar Stingers, winners of the first-half, welcome the Duluth Huskies. Battling it out in the South Division, winners of the both halves, the Kenosha Kingfish host the four-seed La Crosse Loggers, as the Madison Mallards face off against the Green Bay Bullfrogs. 

Monday will serve as the divisional wild card game, and is a one-game elimination, while Tuesday will determine the divisional champion, and will also be single-game elimination. Wednesday will be served as an off day, before Thursday begins game one of the Northwoods League’s Summer Collegiate World Series. 

 

North Division

St. Cloud (49-23)

Gregory is the ace of league’s best pitching staff

After experiencing a historical second half of 2015, the Rox set a Northwoods League record for victories in a half, totaling 30 wins, and clinching the title with ease.

Headlined by a plethora of fantastic arms, St. Cloud’s pitching staff is the catalyst behind their success, possessing an outstanding four different starters with ERA’s below 3.00. Starter Reese Gregory (St. Cloud State) has collected accolades all season, known as possibly the most dominant pitcher in the Northwoods League, owning a 6-3 record, 1.46 ERA, and striking out 66 batters. In addition to Gregory, the Rox could look to Domenick Carlini (S.E. Louisiana), Zach Pop (Kentucky), or Lucas Gilbreath (Minnesota) to start off the mound, as all three have combined for 15 wins, and 135 strikeouts. Coming out of the bullpen, St. Cloud have two relievers that can keep a lead intact, as set-up man Brian Glowicki (Minnesota) boasts a 1.94 ERA over 37 innings of work, with a perfect 5-0 record. After Glowicki, star closer Trevor Charpie (Nevada) has been lights out all year with a dominant 0.67 ERA and 11 saves.

Complementing the terrific Rox pitching rotation, St. Cloud provides a consistent offensive attack, led by 3rd baseman John Sansone (Florida State), possessing a .321 batting average, .401 on-base percentage, with 5 home runs and 20 RBI. The Rox are powered by a duo of Connor Crane (Middle Tennessee State) and Austin Athmann (Minnesota), who have combined for 10 bombs and have driven in 74 runs for the year. Outfielder Lee Miller (Davidson) has been one of the more reliable bats at the top of the lineup, registering 61 hits and a .295 average.

Throughout the 2015 season, St. Cloud defeated Rochester five times in eight total ballgames, with three of the wins coming at home. The first-seed in the North Division will host Rochester in Monday’s divisional semifinal, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 PM.

Willmar (47-24)

Estrada has proven that he belongs in the NWL all season

Once cruising to the first-half North Division title, Willmar kept up their strong pace over their counterparts in the second stanza, ending the regular season on a five-game winning streak.

The Stingers rotation falls right behind St. Cloud as the second-best pitching staff statistically in the league, with a trio of aces that have been commanding opposing team’s lineups all year. Brian Kehner (Presbyterian) has titled himself the leader of the staff, with his 3-2 record and 2.01 ERA, as the lefty has not given up more than two earned runs in any appearance all season. Right-handers Zach Strecker (Kentucky) and Kiko Garcia (Pepperdine) have connected for ten wins, while Strecker has been victorious in his last five appearances, tying a league-record with seven wins. Coming out of the Stingers bullpen, All-Star Brady Anderson (Florida Gulf Coast) has been fantastic in the closer role, leading the league with 19 saves, striking out 32 batters over 24 1/3 innings of work.

Offensively, the Stingers have been paced by an unusual suspect in local high-school product Eddie Estrada, attending Minnesota in the fall, Estrada has been arguably the hottest hitter in the league since July, driving in 30 runs, while totaling 43 hits and hitting safely in 17 of his last 20 games. Complementing Estrada is his future Golden Gopher teammate Dan Motl, boasting a .318 batting average and leading the Stingers with 51 runs scored, earning All-Star accolades for his stellar season. Outfielder Ky Parrott (James Madison) supplies the muscle amongst the lineup, leading the entire North Division with 47 RBI, while Troy Dixon (St. John’s) and All-Star Storm Wilson (Kentucky) each have posted batting averages over .300.

The Stingers and Huskies split their season series, with both teams each winning four games apiece. Willmar welcomes Duluth for the one-game elimination on Monday, scheduled for a 7:05 PM start.

Duluth (40-32)

Stevenson has been the spark behind Duluth’s high-octane offense

Finishing in fourth place in the first half, and third place in the second half, one factor remained all season, their high-powered offense carried them into the 2015 postseason. Leading the league in hits and third in the North in runs scored, the Huskies batters kept them atop the divisional standings throughout the entire year.

Consistently setting the table during the regular season, All-Star center fielder Cal Stevenson (Nevada) has been a nuisance for opposing pitchers as the leadoff man, leading the league with an outstanding .481 on-base percentage, while retaining a .326 batting average and leading the team with 41 runs scored and recording 58 hits. Duluth’s first baseman Alex Wojciechowski (Minnesota-Duluth) enjoyed a terrific season with his local Northwoods League team, leading his team with 61 hits and 27 RBI. Catcher T.J. Martin (Kansas) has proven himself as one of the best backstops in the league, recording a .292 batting average and totaling 40 hits over 43 games played.

Defensively, Eric Morell (La Grange College) highlights the Duluth rotation, performing as the Huskies’ ace, winning his last three starts, while possessing a 4-2 record and leading all starters with a 2.68 ERA and 43

strikeouts. Behind Morell is right-hander Mitchell Bauer (Minnesota State Mankato) who has been Duluth’s hottest pitcher of late, becoming victorious in his last five starts, with a 3.85 ERA and holding opposing batters to a meager .243 average. Entering out of the bullpen for the Huskies is late-inning stud Austin

Carpenter (North Alabama), who has picked up 12 saves on the year, while owning a 1.68 ERA, and gathered All-Star accolades for his sensational 2015 campaign as the Duluth closer.  

Duluth can feel somewhat confident heading to Willmar, as both teams won four games each in the eight-game season series. The Huskies will travel to Willmar on Monday to take on the Stingers at 7:05 PM, with a chance to advance to the divisional finals on Tuesday. 

Rochester (39-33)

Home Run Derby champ DeRoche-Duffin led the North in home runs this season

Sliding into the final playoff spot in the North Division, the Honkers enjoyed a solid season in 2015, despite faltering towards the end of the regular season. Rochester boasts the talent offensively and defensively to make waves as the fourth seed.

Paced by outfielder Matt Fiedler (Minnesota) the Honkers lineup can strike fear in any opposing pitcher. The catalyst behind his team’s offensive attack, Fiedler was one of the best outfielders in his division, with a .354 batting average, 8 home runs and 37 RBI, while also flipping around and registering two wins as a pitcher. Infielders Miles Mastrobuoni (San Mateo) and Scott Schreiber (Nebraska) each hover around .300 on their batting average, while combining for 53 RBI. Postseason All-Star Joe DeRoche-Duffin (UConn) has the capability to turn a game in his team’s favor anytime he steps up to the plate, leading the division in home runs with 12 on the year.

Starter Jayson Yano (Stevens Institute) has been looked upon as one of the more prominent arms in the North Division, with his 5-2 record and dazzling 2.40 ERA, striking out 38 batters over 52 1/3 innings of work. Joining Yano in the Rochester rotation, Joshua Pigg (Hawaii) has arguably been the Honkers most consistent pitcher, allowing just three earned runs in his last three starts, with a perfect 3-0 mark and 2.41 ERA on the year. Rochester uses multiple arms to handle their late-inning affairs, led by Spencer Greer (Dixie State) who’s 1.92 ERA and 6 saves speak for themselves, while demonstrating the capability to provide several innings of long-relief. Ricky Delgado (San Joaquin Delta C.C.) fluctuates between starter and reliever, but has consistently gotten the job done, allowing just one run in his last 17 2/3 innings of work.

The Honkers won just three of the eight contests against St. Cloud, and won only once at Joe Faber Field. Travelling to St. Cloud for the divisional semifinal, Rochester will look to upset the second-half champs, with the start time scheduled for 7:05 PM.

South Division

Kenosha (48-24)

All-Star Game MVP Eric Filia directs Kenosha’s league-leading offense

In just their second season as a Northwoods League franchise, Kenosha had a season to remember, clinching both the first and second halves, and finishing with the best record in the South Division.

Priding themselves as the second-best offense in the division, Kenosha led the league in runs scored and was second in the South for home runs. Highlighted by All-Star Eric Filia (UCLA) the Kingfish offense is capable of lighting up scoreboards in any inning, as the outfielder led the Northwoods League in RBI (55) and leads Kenosha with a .340 batting average and 89 hits. Assisting Filia are All-Stars Jason Scholl (Eastern Illinois) and Alex Borglin (Central Michigan), as Scholl recorded a team-high 10 home runs on the year, and Borglin stayed consistent all season, carrying a .274 batting average, with 38 RBI and scored 54 times. As the leadoff hitter, Zach Weigel (Seton Hall) has enjoyed a successful 2015 season, occupying a .316 batting average with 72 hits and 55 runs.

Headlining Kenosha’s terrific pitching staff, P.J. Schuster Jr. (SIU-Edwardsville) has been the go-to man off the mound, providing an All-Star caliber season with his 6-3 record, 3.06 ERA, leading the Kingfish with 53 strikeouts over 73 1/3 innings. Following Schuster Jr. is lefty E.J. Trapino (Wright State), who’s been a solid number two man all season long, striking out 52 batters, while Rico Garcia (Hawaii Pacific) has the ability to shut down any offense he faces, punching out 47 batters over 48 2/3 innings. In the latter-half of the ballgame, Kenosha’s bullpen is one of the league’s best, marked by All-Star Ryan Orr (Kalamazoo College), who’s 1.39 ERA over 45 1/3 innings makes him one of the Northwoods League’s best late-innings pitchers. Following Orr is a duo of relievers, including J.D. Nielsen (Illinois) and Brett Shimanovsky (St. Louis) who have combined for 9 saves and 5 wins throughout the regular season.

The Kingfish and Loggers split the season series against one another, while Kenosha took two of four games at home against La Crosse. Kenosha will host their inaugural wild card game Monday, entertaining the Loggers to a one-game elimination battle, beginning at 7:05 PM.

Madison (43-28)

Gonsolin is the leader of Madison’s star-studded outfield

Possessing an endless amount of talent offensively and defensively, the Mallards experienced another successful season in the South Division, and enter the 2015 postseason as one of the hottest teams in the league, winning eight of their last ten games.

Headlined by two postseason All-Stars, the Madison offense is capable of taking over a ballgame. Anthony Gonsolin (St. Mary’s) is the featured piece of the Mallards lineup, leading the team with 11 home runs and 46 RBI, while boasting a .316 batting average. In addition, Jean Ramirez (Illinois State) has been known as one the best catchers in the Northwoods League, hitting .307 on the year, with 8 home runs and 39 RBI. Outfielder Cameron Frost (Washington State) and J.J. Gould (Jacksonville) have supplied the strength in their lineup, linking together for 12 home runs and 75 RBI.

Flipping the script to pitching, Andrew Beckwith (Coastal Carolina) has taken upon his role as the number one in Madison’s rotation, with a 3-2 record and 3.44 ERA in 47 innings of work. After Beckwith, the Mallards still struggle for a consistent alternative starter, however Dalton D’Spain (Texas A&M Corpus Christi), A.J. Bogucki (North Carolina), and new addition Sterling Sharp (Drury University) have all shown flashes of dominance, but have been unable to piece together quality back-to-back starts. Madison’s issue all season has been the inability to hand off the ball with a lead intact for their All-Star dominated bullpen which involves flamethrower Mike Kaelin (Buffalo). As one of Madison’s closers, Kaelin has proven to be one of the best at shutting the door all season long, collecting 8 saves and striking out an incredible 50 batters in just 32 innings of work.

The Mallards play host to Green Bay for the South Division semifinal, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 PM in front of an assumed sell-out crowd at Warner Park.

Green Bay (41-30)

Brunner headlines the South’s top pitching rotation

The Bullfrogs gave Kenosha the biggest fight to clinching a half, falling just a half game behind the Kingfish in the first, but remained one of the best teams in the South standings all season, backed by their terrific pitching staff.

One of the more underrated facets in the South Division, the Bullfrogs rotation has been very instrumental in an offensive-minded conference, paced by their underrated right-hander Sam Brunner (Dayton). Despite receiving any awards or postseason accolades, Brunner remains one of the hidden secrets of the Northwoods League, holding opposing batters to an insufficient .192 average, leading the team with 6 wins, and staying consistent with 60 strikeouts over 61 1/3 innings as the Green Bay ace. Always supplying a reliable effort as the Green Bay closer, star Jeremy Graf (St. Petersburg) has converted 11 of his 13 save opportunities and striking out 28 batters.

The Bullfrogs first three batters have carried their offense all season, led by Robb Paller (Columbia), who’s .345 batting average was good for third overall in the Northwoods League and marking a team-high of 61 hits. All-Star Ryan Donovan (Hofstra) has served as a dependable source of power as the cleanup hitter, leading the team in home runs (6) and RBI (43). When it comes to speed on the base paths, no team is better than the Bullfrogs, as a duo of outfielders in leadoff man Logan Taylor (Louisville) and Caleb Ratzman (Illinois State) can cause fits for opposing team’s catchers, as Ratzman led the entire league in stolen bases with 40, while Taylor’s .311 batting average has allowed him to get on base and steal 33 bags as Green Bay’s table-setter.

Green Bay travels to Madison to face off against the Mallards in front of an expected rowdy atmosphere, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 PM.

La Crosse (40-31)   

McCoy’s record-breaking 2015 season carried La Crosse into the postseason

Owning the Northwoods League’s best offense, as well as the league’s best offensive player, the Loggers have enough firepower within their lineup to compete with any team in the league, cruising their way into the final spot in the South Division.

Shortstop Mason McCoy (Illinois Central) has provided one of the greatest displays of offensive production the league has ever seen, setting single-season records in hits (112), runs (80), while leading the league with a .367 batting average, en route to being named the 2015 Most Valuable Player. Complementing McCoy is his double-play partner in All-Star Jordan Zimmerman (Mesa C.C.), who leads the team with 52 RBI and is tied for the team-high with 8 home runs. Taking home postseason All-Star honors, first baseman Brock Lundquist (Long Beach State) really turned it on in the second half of the season, finishing with a .317 average while driving in 42 RBI. Another valuable batter in the La Crosse lineup is outfielder Will Savage (Columbia) who has been stellar out of the two-spot in the lineup, contributing a .332 batting average and 69 hits.

The La Crosse rotation will have to be able to limit their opposition’s lineup in this postseason, as the Loggers staff has been one of the worst in the league, however Kevin Flemer (Oregon State) has shown flashes of brilliance off the mound, with a 3-1 record and 2.36 ERA over 57 innings of work, allowing just four earned runs in his last four starts. Next in line to Flemer is Nolan Gromacki (Missouri), who holds a 2-4 mark, with 46 strikeouts. Despite La Crosse’s lackluster starting rotation, their bullpen has been one of more stable factors on their squad, as set-up man Jordan Jess (Minnesota) has been outstanding in relief, with a 4-1 record, and striking out a fantastic 46 batters over 32 2/3 innings, holding a current scoreless streak of 8 2/3 innings. All-Star closer Ty Provencher (Long Beach State) went 14-for-15 in his save opportunities throughout the regular season, giving up just three earned runs and striking out 18 batters.

La Crosse has some confidence heading into their Wild Card matchup against the Kingfish, splitting the season series with both teams winning four games against each other. The Loggers will look to pull off to one-game defeat of the South Division champs, travelling to Kenosha for the South Division semifinal, which begins at 7:05 PM. 

###

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, more than 120 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (WAS), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Lucas Duda (NYM) and Ben Zobrist (OAK). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League website. For more information, visit www.northwoodsleague.com