Stingers Down Huskies Late, Split Series

The Duluth Huskies (15-16) lost their series finale to the Willmar Stingers (19-11) on Sunday by a score of 6-2, treating the Willmar faithful to a win during the last game of the year at Bill Taunton Stadium.

Starters Ian Cassidy (0-2) and Joe Vranesic (2-2) traded blows in a pitcher’s duel early on before winning pitcher Stone Kelly (2-1) pitched shutdown ball in relief for Willmar to pave the road to a victory. Ryan Kokora and Jacob Trujillo came out of the bullpen for Duluth but it wasn’t enough to stop the Stingers from pulling away late.

Ian Cassidy was cooking through four, and faced the bare minimum number of batters until a two-out double into the right field corner off the bat of Caleb Ledbetter spoiled that streak. On the other side of things, Joe Vranesic walked the bases loaded but escaped the jam in the second and struck out the side in the fourth.

After Alec Abercrombie walked to start the fifth and stole second on a 1-1 pitch to Jack Stronach, the freshman from UCLA delivered the first hit of the ballgame to score Abercrombie and give the Huskies a 1-0 lead. Rudy Karre also singled that inning, but Isaac Collins and Rob Emery were retired to end the threat.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Stingers struck. With one out, Tyler Reichenborn hit a chopper to Jordan Hovey at shortstop, Hovey had a beat on the ball but it took a bad hop off the lip of the infield grass and he couldn’t corral it. With Reichenborn at first, second baseman Luke Becker ripped a triple into the left field corner to score him and tie the ballgame. Marcus Still walked to put runners at the corners, and Nolan Bumstead drove him in on the next pitch with a sacrifice fly to Jake Smith in left. On the very next pitch, Danny Rodriguez took a fastball up and in over the left-center field wall for his second two-run homer in as many games. In the span of three pitches, the Stingers had scored three runs and led 4-1. Cassidy finished the inning, but that was it for the sophomore from Missouri Western. He finished without giving up any earned runs, allowed three hits and two walks, and struck out five.

Duluth couldn’t get anything going against Stone Kelly in the seventh, and in the bottom of the frame Ryan Kokora ran into trouble with two outs. He walked catcher Carter Schmidt and then gave up four straight singles to extend the deficit to 6-1. Luke Becker and Nolan Bumstead notched their second RBIs in as many innings.

After Kokora’s exit in the eighth, Jacob Trujillo was the only Husky reliever to find success, doing so in a clean eighth inning punctuated by a 6-4-3 double play.

Down by five in the top of the ninth, the Huskies did not go quietly. Alec Abercrombie led things off with a walk for the second time that night, and after a Jack Stronach punchout, Jake Smith singled for the first time in the contest. Rudy Karre succumbed to the infield fly rule to set up Isaac Collins’ fifth at-bat with two outs. Collins had hit the ball very hard into outs in his last three at-bats, most recently being robbed by an absolute web gem by Stingers shortstop Josh Bissonette up the middle. On a 1-1 pitch, Collins hit a weak ground ball to the left side of the infield. Kelly gloved it ranging in and to his right, and spun to gun out Collins, but lost his balance while turning and opted to catch himself instead of making the throw, extending the game and loading the bases. Rob Emery was issued a six-pitch walk on a controversial call by home plate umpire Paul Roemer to score Abercrombie and cut the Stinger lead to four. However, the excitement was short-lived as Kyle Hubbuch ended an 0-for-5 day with a groundout to Luke Becker to end the ballgame.

The Huskies now face an elimination number of two in the North Division standings, and head to Mankato for a two-game set against the Moondogs starting Monday. Dylari Jones (0-0) is on tap for the Moondogs, while the Huskies have yet to announce their starter. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.