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The 2018 Northwoods League Playoffs Begin Tonight

The 2018 Northwoods League Playoffs Begin Tonight

Eight Teams will vie for a trip to the Summer Collegiate World Series

 By: Austin Walther, Northwoods League PR

The Northwoods League regular season has come to an end and there are eight teams remaining. Neither of the two World Series representatives from a year ago are in the playoffs. The road to the Summer Collegiate World Series is wide open as there were completely different divisional winners in each half.

Willmar lands the number one seed in the North and will host Mankato tonight at 7:05 PM. Duluth will travel to the First-Half Champions, Bismarck and will also start at 7:05 PM. Madison clinched the first seed in the South and will host Fond du Lac as the Second-Half Champions Kenosha will play Kalamazoo at home with both starting at 7:05 PM.

North Division

Bismarck Larks (37-34)

Larks edged out Huskies by a game in the First-Half for a berth

The Bismarck Larks finished 25-11 in the first half and beat out the Duluth Huskies by a game. They finished under .500 in the second half, but thanks to a strong first half, the second-year team has a home playoff game on Monday.

Bismarck finished near the middle of the pack in offense in scoring and hitting. They scored just under 400 runs this season. The offense was led by one of the league’s top hitters, first baseman Matthew Warkentin (Xavier). He is batting over .300, is near the top with 14 home runs and has driven in 54 RBI along with 45 runs scored. Infielder Ripken Reyes (San Diego) has been a consistent hitter all season. He made the All-Star game and the Major League Dreams Showcase game. Reyes is batting over .300, is second on the team with 72 hits while also leading the team with 19 stolen bases and 48 runs scored. Jacob Nesbit (Arkansas) is the third guy on the team with over 40 runs scored while also collecting 64 hits along with eight doubles. Kyle Stevens (Lindenwood) is near the top of the team with 16 doubles despite batting under .250 as he has drawn just under 40 walks this season.

Hendry Rodriguez (LSU-Alexandria) headlines the pitching staff for the Bismarck Larks. He was named the starter in the All-Star game, has a 5-4 record and a 2.71 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 63 innings. The second guy in their rotation is Matt Butler (St. Cloud State) who has made five starts on 12 appearances while throwing one complete game. He has a 2.62 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 37.2 innings. Matthew Ponsiglione (Seton Hall) has made the most appearances out of any other Lark. He has seen action 21 times, has a 5.04 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 25 innings and one save.

Willmar Stingers (48-24)

A balance of hitting and pitching kept the Stingers near the top all season

Willmar won the Second-Half North Division title on the final day of the regular season. The Stingers have been consistently near the top in hitting and pitching all season. They finished 2.5 games back from the lead in the First-Half but were able to edge out Mankato in the Second-Half, giving them a home playoff game on Monday.

The Willmar Stingers finished near the top half in hitting this season with 400 runs scored. Nic Hernandez (Cal Poly Pomona) is leading the team in batting this season at .333 and second in doubles at 16. Tyler Reichenborn (Iowa Western) and John Trousdale (Alabama) both lead the team in games played with over 60. Reichenborn is hitting .327, leads the team in runs at 48 and hits with 70. Trousdale has an impressive 20 doubles, 41 walks and 12 stolen bases. Matt Rudick (San Diego State) is also hitting over .300 for the Stingers this season. Jayson Newman (Cal-State Northridge) has been on a home run tear with four in his last seven games, putting his total at eight.

Willmar is also near the top in least number of runs allowed. The bullpen leads the way for this pitching staff. Nick Mears (Sacramento City) has the lowest ERA among qualified pitchers at 1.39 with 29 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. Newman has also made a name for himself out of the Stingers bullpen making 22 appearances. He has 10 saves with a 1.98 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 31.2 innings. Bryant Claunch (North Alabama) rounds out the pitchers with an under 3.00 ERA at 2.07 and has 16 strikeouts in 26 innings. Louie Varland (Concordia-St. Paul) has made a team-high 11 starts and leads the team with 59 strikeouts in just as many innings while posting a 4-2 record. Jonathan McKinney (Georgia Gwinnett) has made nine starts on 11 appearances, has a 5-2 record and 2.92 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 52.1 innings.

Mankato MoonDogs (46-26)

Top pitching has propelled Mankato into the Playoffs

It was a close battle during the second half for the home playoff game in the opening round of the playoffs. The MoonDogs were slightly edged by the Stingers for first in the Second-Half, but Mankato is entering the playoffs having won seven of their last ten.

The MoonDogs finished second in runs scored with 450. The offense has been led by the home run leader Kyle MacDonald (Arkansas State). He’s been right around .300 all season, with 16 bombs, 75 RBI, 52 runs scored and 15 doubles. Five other guys have been hitting right around .300. Garrett Mitchell (UCLA) leads the team at .309 and Nick Novak (Angelo State) has over 70 hits and 53 runs scored. Austin Bull (Grand Canyon) leads the team with 20 stolen bases while batting .300 and RJ Teijeiro (UCLA) is also hitting .300.

The Mankato MoonDogs pitchers have allowed just over 300 runs which is a league low. The bullpen has a one-two punch in Brandon Pfaadt (Bellarmine) and Zach Hardy (New Mexico State). Pfaadt hasn’t allowed an earned run in over a month, has made 25 appearances with a 1.78 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 45.1 innings. Hardy has converted 10 saves in 19 appearances with a 1.14 ERA and 23 strikeouts in just as many innings. Nathan Hickey (Tarleton State) has a bit of an elevated ERA at 4.41, but he has a 5-5 record with 65 strikeouts in 67.1 innings.

Duluth Huskies (47-25)

Big time offense leads Duluth into the Playoffs

Duluth is led by the best offense in the league with over 450 runs scored. They have the 2018 Northwoods League MVP in Auggie Isaacson (Friends University) and have been consistently in the top-four in the North. They just missed out on winning the First-Half by a game but got in with being one of the top-four teams.

Isaacson finished the season with the batting title while hitting .364. He also leads the league in runs scored at 59, triples with five and 39 stolen bases. Chris Gilbody (Georgetown College) has been a mainstay behind the plate for Duluth as one of the league’s top catchers. He’s hitting .320 with a team-high 12 doubles and 44 runs scored. Nicholas Sogard (Loyola-Marymount) has been a consistent .300 hitter all season and has 16 stolen bases. The Huskies have the player with the best name, General McArthur (Missouri Baptist), who is second on the team with 29 stolen bases and along with 43 runs scored.

Duluth is second in the league with just over 300 runs allowed this season. Their one-two punch out of the bullpen is Tim Holdgrafer (Cal Poly Pomona) and Kieran Shaw (Harvard). Holdgrafer has converted five saves in 16 appearances with a 1.83 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 39.1 innings. Shaw splits closing duties with four saves in a team-high 23 appearances with a 2.43 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 37 innings. Three guys have made at least 10 starts. Hayden Shenefield (Cal State Northridge) leads the starters with a 2.79 ERA and 62 strikeouts. Troy Newell (Western Kentucky) has a 6-2 record and a 3.31 ERA while Hunter Bigge (Harvard) is 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA.

South

Madison Mallards (49-23)

Madison finishes the season with the best record in the entire League

The Mallards have seen their offense come up big many times this season. They were well represented at the All-Star Game and Major League Dreams Showcase. Madison won the first half by 3.5 games over Kalamazoo and they finished with an eight-game lead in the overall standings.

Madison has been led by many different players. Jake Randa (Northwest Florida State) leads the league with 22 doubles, has 83 hits while batting close to .320 all season and has driven in 53 runs. Tyler Plantier (Richmond) is near the top of the league in home runs with 14 while driving in 51. David Vinsky (Northwood) is the third Mallard with 50 or more RBI, he has a batting average of .310 and leads the team with 86 hits. Trevor Schwecke (UW-Milwaukee) rounds out the top hitters for Madison with a .298 batting average and a team-high 18 stolen bases.

Madison’s pitching has been right around the top-10 as well. The highlight of the pitching staff has been Trace Norkus (North Florida). He made the All-Star game and Major League Dreams Showcase as well, leading the league all season in saves and ending with 14. The other two top arms out of the bullpen are Leon Hunter (NCA&T) and Jonah Smith (Creighton). Hunter has made 19 appearances, has a 1.17 ERA while Smith has made 24 with a 1.60 ERA. Three guys have made 10 starts. Justin Watland (San Jose State) is 3-1 with a 3.70 ERA and has 51 strikeouts in 51 innings. Dalton Wiggins (Marietta) is 4-4 with a 4.28 ERA and Sean Leland (Illinois) has a 4-2 record with a 3.52 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 53.2 innings.

 Kenosha Kingfish (41-31)

Kenosha improved its win total by 15 in the second half

The Kingfish finished in the bottom three of the first half in the South Division. They won 15 more games, went 28-10 in the second half and clinched the division by 4.5 games. Justin Berg won coach of the year for the Kingfish for their complete turn-around from the First-Half to the second.

Kenosha finished just shy of 400 runs. Scott Dubrule (Jacksonville) is leading the team with a .315 average, 43 runs scored, 68 hits and 17 stolen bases. Jack Weiller (Virginia) is hitting just under .300, has 66 hits and 33 RBI. Evan McDonald (Fairleigh Dickinson) has jacked a team-high nine home runs and has 35 RBI and 10 doubles. Connor Doyle (San Diego) and Will Wagner (Liberty) are tied with a team-lead 12 doubles as both have reached base more than 35 times via the walk.

The Kingfish are near the top-five in pitching. Jack Zimmerman (Kent State) leads the bullpen with 14 appearances. He has a 2.13 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 33.2 innings and a 3-1 record. The Kingfish closer is Josh Serio (UW-Milwaukee) who made both the All-Star Game and Major League Dreams Showcase and has converted eight saves with 32 strikeouts in 23 innings. Kaleb Schmidt (Drury) has made 13 starts for Kenosha, has a 3-4 record with a 3.31 ERA and has a team-high 52 strikeouts in 59.2 innings. Denson Hull (Creighto) Has also made 13 starts and has a 4-2 record with a 3.87 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. Keanu Mendez (Concordia-St. Paul) leads the team with five wins with a 5-2 record and has a 3.81 ERA.

Kalamazoo Growlers (41-31)

Big First-Half surge puts Kalamazoo into the top-four

The Kalamazoo Growlers came 3.5 games short of winning the First-Half South Division title. They went under .500 in the Second-Half, but thanks to winning 24 games in the first, they were able to come in second overall in the South.

The Growlers finished in the top-10 in runs scored with just over 400. Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame) has consistently been the top hitter for the team all season. He’s batting over .300 with a team-high 16 doubles along with five home runs and 30 RBI. Matt Mervis (Duke) is also hitting over .300 with 11 doubles and 54 hits. Zach Daniels (Tennessee), the home run derby winner leads the team with 44 runs scored, he has seven home runs, 43 RBI and 11 stolen bases.

Kalamazoo had a strong first half showing from their pitching staff but lost a few guys since then. Kyle Virbitsky (Penn State) has made 12 starts along with Jack Nelson (Boston College). Virbitsky is 4-1 with a 2.47 ERA and has 42 strikeouts in 69 innings. Nelson had a strong start, tapered off a little but has a 4.81 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 61.2 innings and a record of 5-4. Mason Shinabery (Huntington) has been a great mainstay out of the bullpen with nine saves, a 1.18 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 30.1 innings.

Fond du Lac Dock Spiders (39-31)

Fond du Lac is making its first playoff appearance in franchise history

The Dock Spiders played great in both halves which sparked enough for them to be in the playoffs. They are in just their second season in the Northwoods League. The Dock Spiders won 21 games in the first half and played .500 ball to close out the season and landed the fourth seed in the South.

Fondy finished in the middle of the pack for offense. Alex Erro (Northwestern) was near the top in batting as he is hitting a .348 with 62 hits and a team-high 35 RBI. Jack Wassel (Minnesota) is also over .300 with a team-high 31 runs scored and seven doubles. There not much of a power hitting team as Cole Zabowski (Ole Miss) leads the team with four dingers and has 28 RBI. Andrew Bullock (Western Carolina) has collected 56 hits and a team-high nine stolen bases while Mitch Boe (Iowa) has 53 hits this season.

The pitching has been near the top-five in least runs allowed this season. Jon Young (Indiana Wesleyan) leads the staff with 10 starts, a 1.70 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 58 innings and a 4-2 record. Austin Wagner has been another solid arm for the Dock Spiders. He’s appeared in 11 games, with seven of those being starts. He has a 6-1 record with a 1.91 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 47 innings. Michael Hope (Shippensburg) currently leads the team with four saves on 19 appearances, a 4-1 record and 27 strikeouts in 25.2 innings.

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The Northwoods League is the proven leader in the development of elite college baseball players. Now in its 25th anniversary season, the Northwoods 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, over 200 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS), two-time World Series Champions Ben Zobrist (CHC) and Brandon Crawford (SFG) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (BOS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET) and Curtis Granderson (TOR). 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.