Northwoods League Playoffs Begin Tonight
Defending Summer Collegiate World Series Champion Wisconsin Rapids Leads the Field
By Austin Walther, Northwoods League
Rochester, Minn. – The Northwoods League regular season has come to an end and there are eight teams remaining. There were plenty of record-breaking performances this year by both teams and players including two inaugural seasons, but big moments are still ahead for the Playoffs.
In the North, the Second-Half Champion Eau Claire Express will host the Mankato MoonDogs who finished with the best overall record, but failed to win either half. St. Cloud won the first half in the North and they will host the Willmar Stingers. As for the South, the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters won both the first and second half titles and will host the Lakeshore Chinooks. The Rockford Rivets then head to Michigan to play the Battle Creek Bombers.
St. Cloud Rox (42-30)
Pitching Leads Rox to Playoffs Once Again
The St. Cloud Rox won the first-half by a game over the Waterloo Bucks to secure a home game in the playoffs. They finished fourth in the second half standings and second in the overall standings, but have the better record of both half winners to take the top seed in the North.
The Rox finished first in team ERA (3.43) and opponents’ batting average (.228), which led to their playoff berth. Northwoods League Pitcher of the Year Aaron Rozek (Minnesota State) leads the St. Cloud rotation with a record of 6-1 on ten starts and 64 innings pitched while striking out 78 batters with a 2.39 ERA. Kenny Saenz (BYU) has another high strikeout output for the Rox as he has shutdown 76 batters on 12 starts this season. The backend of the bullpen is led by Brent Killam (Georgetown) who has appeared in 21 games, converted nine saves with a record of 5-0 and ERA of 0.37. Jackson Rose (Minnesota) is another strong asset out of the Rox bullpen as he has thrown in 18 games on 21 innings and posted a 1.71 ERA.
St. Cloud is in the bottom half when it comes to runs scored as they have 364 on the season with 36 home runs. The offense is led by Shane Selman (McNeese State) as he leads the team with six home runs, 31 RBI and a .296 average. Keaton Kringlen (BYU) leads regular Rox players in batting with a .313 average as he has hit four long balls and has 28 RBI. Matthew Tarantino (Pacific) is the third Rox player on the leaderboards with 31 RBI and 5 home runs while batting .273. St. Cloud also finds speed from Drew Avans (SE Louisiana) who has stolen 30 bases this year and scored 40 runs and Mason Mamarella (Kent State) who has stolen 15 with 28 runs scored.
Eau Claire Express (39-33)
Second Half Surge Puts Express in Playoffs
The Express finished tied for fourth from the bottom in the first-half North standings. Eau Claire then went on to win 24 games in the second-half as win number 24 put them in the playoffs with a home game. They finished with the same record as Mankato in the second half standings and tied with Waterloo for fourth in the overall standings.
Eau Claire finished fifth in team ERA with 3.97 and were holding opponents to a batting average of .243. Ryan Zimmerman (St. Thomas) leads all Express starters with 11 starts while throwing 57 innings and posts a 5-2 record with a 3.47 ERA. He also leads all Express pitchers with 59 strikeouts. Gerry Salisbury (Ohio) and Aaron Shortridge also have a record of 5-2 and Lane Ramsey (Oklahoma) has made eight starts with a 2-2 record and a 3.21 ERA while striking out 24 batters. Luke Eldred (Dallas Baptist) then has made nine starts, has a record of 4-2 with an ERA of 3.27 while striking out 35. Victor Chavez (Scottsdale CC) is the Express closer as he has converted eight saves, but posts a 4.29 ERA.
Eau Claire is in the middle of the pack when it comes to hitting with 377 runs scored, but ranks second to last in home runs. Zach Gilles (Central Michigan) leads the team in batting with a .315 average and Zach Ashford (Fresno State) leads the team in hits with 69. He also has 39 RBI and 14 doubles while batting .301. Justin Evans (Columbus State) has knocked out six home runs for the Express this year while driving in 36. All three of them lead Eau Claire on the base paths as they lead the league in stolen bases. Gilles has the team lead with 25 stolen bases, Evans has 23 swipes and Ashford has stolen 17.
Mankato MoonDogs (44-28)
Late First Half Surge Carried Over into Second-Half
The Mankato MoonDogs finished five games back from first in the first-half standings which put them in third place. The MoonDogs then went on to win 24 second half games, forcing a tie with Eau Claire and giving them the best overall record.
Mankato ranks second in team ERA at 3.70 while holding opponents to a batting average of .242. Starters Nicholas Belzer (Minnesota State) and Andrew Fisher (Illinois) along with primary reliever Austin Bollinger (Nicholls State) all lead the team with six wins. Belzer has started nine games, pitched 49 innings with a 2.76 ERA while striking out 38. Bollinger has appeared in 16 games, started two, threw 36.2 innings and has a 6.14 ERA. Fisher has a 1.93 ERA on eight starts while striking out 51. Brett Newberg (Austin Peay) is right behind them with five wins while starting in all 11 appearances and has a 2.66 ERA. Naithen Dewsnap (Cal State Bakersfield) has 12 saves on 25 appearances as Joey Gerber (Illinois) has also converted four saves in 20 appearances.
Mankato ranks third in total runs scored at 445, but have only gone deep 31 times this season. Ethan Valdez (Nicholls State) leads all MoonDogs with 71 hits in 246 at bats while going deep six times and has a club high 45 RBI and 18 doubles. Daniel Amaral (UCLA) is next with 58 hits while batting .347, stealing a team high 23 bases and scoring 41 runs. Zac Wiley (Bellarmine) joins Valdez with six dingers as he has driven in 37 and Alvaro Rubalcaba (CSUN) ranks in the top five in runs scored with 44.
Willmar Stingers (41-31)
A Nice Balance of Hitting and Pitching Brings Stingers into Playoffs
Willmar finished .500 in the first half standings which put them in fourth place and 7 games back from first. The Stingers improved their win total by five in the second half and maintained a top-four place in the overall standings.
The Stingers are in the middle when it comes to pitching as they post a team ERA of 4.19 and an opponent’s batting average of .241. Willmar did have two six game winners for them as Polo Portela (Sacramento City) appeared in 10 games, started seven with a 1.24 ERA. Gus Varland (Concordia St. Paul) has appeared in 13 while making five starts and posting a 1.42 ERA. Nick Lackney (Minnesota) has made the most starts with 10 with a 3-2 record and a 4.82 ERA while striking out 37.
Willmar’s hitting ranks the same as their pitching. The Stingers have scored 382 runs this year while only hitting 37 long balls. Nolan Bumstead (CSUN) leads the Stingers with 77 hits and 19 doubles while batting .272 with seven long ball while driving in a team-high 54. Danny Rodriguez (Bethune-Cookman) leads the club with eight home runs while driving in 42 and hitting .293. Josh Bissonette (Baylor) leads regular starters with a batting average of .299 while hitting four long balls and 35 RBI. Finally, Marcus Still (New Mexico State) has a franchise best 38 steals for Willmar while scoring 51 runs and going deep twice.
Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (52-20)
Dominate Play Leads Rapids to the All-Time Wins Record
Rapids only lost nine games in the first half as they won the South by 4.5 games and with 25 wins in the second half, the Rafters secured both halves by three games in the second half.
The Rafters are ranked fourth in team ERA at 3.73 and they are holding their opponents to just a .239 average. Jesse Slinger (Lock Haven) won eight games for Rapids in 10 starts while posting a 2.71 ERA and striking out 31. Jack Eagan (Madison College) has an impressive 7-0 record with an ERA of 3.08 while striking out a team-high 66. Quinn DiPasquale (SIT) rounds out the triple threat of starters as he started 11 games, has a 3.67 ERA while striking out 56 batters. Layne Henderson (Azusa Pacific) has appeared in 24 games, converted 18 saves, posting a 1.42 ERA while striking out 49 hitters in relief.
Rapids leads the entire league in run scored with 475 and has gone deep the second most with 60 long balls. Bryson Stott (UNLV) ended the regular season with 100 hits while batting .352 and Ryan Stekl (Canisius) has 92 hits with an average of .364. Christian Jones (Campbell) led Rapids in home runs this year with 12 while driving in 31. Dustin Woodcock (SIUE) followed him with 10 long balls and a team-high 61 RBI while Jake Guenther (Sacramento CC) has eight home runs and 46 RBI.
Battle Creek (42-30)
Consistent Play All Season Puts Bombers into Playoffs
Battle Creek finished third in the first half standings as they sat 2 games back from Kenosha and 6.5 back from front-leading Rapids. They finished third once again in the second half standings, but they managed to finish second in the overall standings to land a home game.
Battle Creek finished with the same team ERA as Willmar to put them in the top 10, despite putting a lot of guys on with an opposing batting average of .260. Dakota Edwards (Cal State Stanislaus) leads the rotation with eight appearances and six starts with a 4-2 record and an ERA of 2.80 while striking out 19 in 35.1 innings. Andrew Click (Davenport) has made the most starts with 10 and has a record of 4-4 while posting a 4.01 ERA and striking out 48.
The Bombers are led by their hitting as they scored 402 runs this season and have gone deep 51 times. Alex Howard (Arkansas State) leads the team with 80 hits as he has hit nine out with 43 RBI and 27 doubles. Tom Stoffel (Virginia Tech) and college teammate JD Mundy (Virginia Tech) both have 9 dingers as Stoffel leads the team with 55 RBI and Mundy has 41. Nikola Vasic (McHenry CC) leads the Bombers with 24 stolen bases with 42 runs scored and Nick Walker (Austin Peay) has 15 swipes and 44 runs scored.
Rockford Rivets (39-33)
Rivets Finish with Five More Wins in Second-Half as They Land the Three Seed
Rockford finished sixth in the first-half with a .500 record and nine games back from first. The Rivets went on to win 22 games in the second-half, the same as three other teams, four games back from Rapids and 13 back in the overall for a third-place finish.
The Rivets struggled a bit at times with their pitching as they rank in the bottom half for team ERA at 5.00 and an opposing batting average of .272. Their rotation is led by Cole Bellair (Illinois) with nine starts and a 4-2 record with a 4.66 ERA while striking out 51 batters. Two guys have made eight starts as Jeffrey Barton (Illinois State) has a record of 2-4 and an ERA of 4.81 while striking out 43. Brad Littleton (Indiana) has a record of 3-4, 5.59 ERA and 21 punch outs. The Rivets have a quality closer in Zack Thomas (Chicago State) as he has converted six saves with an ERA of 1.68.
Rockford makes up for it with their hitting as they rank fourth in team batting with an average of .267 and tenth with 38 home runs. Brian Klein (Texas Tech) leads the team with 65 hits while batting .297 and going deep five times. Hunter Feduccia (LSU) has an impressive average of .348 with 64 hits, a team-high 43 runs scored and eight longs balls. Bren Spillane (Illinois) leads the team with 15 stolen bases and has 32 runs scored and four home runs.
Lakeshore Chinooks (38-34)
Chinooks High-Powered Offense Motors Them into the Playoffs
Lakeshore finished fifth in the first half, one game from fourth and 8.5 back from first place. The Chinooks got another top-five finish in the second half and just sneaked into the playoffs on a three-team tie breaker.
The Chinooks finished just outside the top-10 in team ERA at 4.45 while holding opponents to a batting average of second best at .237. The rotation is led with a five-game winner Austin Havekost (Kent State) who has made nine starts and has an ERA of 2.73 while striking out 42. Cyrillo Watson (Illinois) has made the second most starts at eight while posting a 2-2 record with a 3.79 ERA and Austin Jones (UW-Whitewater) has made seven starts with, posting a 2.93 ERA and striking out 31. The Bullpen is led by Joe Heineman (Baylor) who has made 21 appearances with four saves and a 2.92 ERA while striking out 48 batters.
The Chinooks rank second in batting just behind Rapids with a team average of .276 while going deep the third most at 52. Central Florida teammates Matthew Mika (Central Florida) and Rylan Thomas (Central Thomas) leads the Lakeshore offense. Mika has the most hits at 74 while batting .335, stealing a team-high 27 bases and scoring 53 runs. Thomas has gone deep the most with 10 home runs and 51 RBI while batting .314. Daniel DeSimone (Oklahoma State) has 60 hits with a batting average of .309 and seven home runs with 33 RBI. Nick Gatewood (Georgia State) and Joe Duncan (Eastern Illinois) are both batting over .300 as Gatewood leads the team with 15 doubles and Duncan has six home runs and two triples.
The Northwoods League is the proven leader in the development of elite college baseball players. The 23-year old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 20 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 180 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS), two-time World Series Champion Ben Zobrist (CHC) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (BOS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM) and Lucas Duda (NYM). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League website. For more information, visit www.northwoodsleague.com or download the Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play.