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(June 28)-Honkers fall just short in Willmar; Stingers win, 10-9

The Honkers and Stingers epic contest ends in a late Willmar win

(Rochester, Minn.)–  In a wild game, the Honkers can’t find a way to come back for a second time as Willmar defeats Rochester, 10-9.

In a game that was certain to feature the strong arms of the Honkers’ Logan Spitzack (St. Cloud State) and the Stingers’ Andrew Towns (Walters State Community College), the two teams combined for 21 hits and seven errors.

Spitzack entered the game with a 1.66 ERA, but it swelled to 3.00 after three rough innings that saw the Stingers spring to a 7-1 lead. Willmar got off to a hot start, scoring four runs in the bottom of the first inning.

The Honkers scored their first run in the top of the second after Casey Fletcher (Illinois) lead off with a single and eventually came home on a Blaise Lezynski (Notre Dame) base hit. But, with Spitzack still on the mound, the Stingers scored three more in the third – capped by Brian Pruett’s (Florida Gulf Coast) two-run, two-out triple – and the Stingers took a 7-1 lead.

Rochester chipped away at the six-run deficit in the fourth after scoring three runs on four hits thanks in part to another RBI single from Lezynski. The lead seemed insurmountable with Towns on the mound, but the big fourth inning for the Honkers put his pitch count too high to begin the sixth inning. Ben Gullo (Eastern Kentucky) relieved Towns in the sixth and tried to maintain his scoreless streak to begin his season. In his 7.2 innings prior to Saturday’s game, Gullo hadn’t allowed a run. But in the sixth inning, the Honkers scorched Gullo for five runs to regain the lead.

Fletcher drove in two runs on a double with one out to start the scoring in the inning. And after an Alex Schultz (Nebraska Omaha) walk, Connor Schaefbauer hit a two-run double. The Honkers chased Gullo from the game as he was unable to record a third out, and Will Lydon (Pacific) came on. Lydon recorded the inning’s final out and the Stingers trailed this time heading into the bottom of the sixth, 9-7.

The Honkers’ lead was abruptly ended, however. In Ryan Bower’s (Allan Hancock College) third inning of relief work, catcher Max Ayoub (Nebraska Kearney) tied the game on a two-run home run.

In the seventh inning, Lydon set down the Honkers in order for the first time all game. In the bottom half of the inning, Pruett lead off with a single. He would eventually steal third base with two outs and designated hitter Nick Rivera (Florida Gulf Coast) at the plate and scored on a throwing error committed by Honkers catcher Travis Hull (Chabot College).

The 10-9 lead would be good enough for the back end of the Stingers’ bullpen to hold, despite the Honkers’ best efforts to delay Willmar’s run at the North Division title.

Lydon pitched 2.1 scoreless innings in relief of Gullo and Josh Matheson (Minnesota State, Mankato) came on to try and record the save in the ninth inning. The Honkers first two batters reached base for center fielder Corey Hassel (Oklahoma State) who bunted the tying and go-ahead runners to second and third base. L.J. Brewster (Hawaii) and the Honkers hottest hitter, Jeff Campbell (North Dakota) were due up next to try and help the Honkers to another late-inning rally. But Matheson recovered and struck out both Brewster and Campbell looking, earning the Stingers the win.

The two teams meet again tomorrow in Willmar for a 6:05 p.m. first pitch. Seth Holbert (Sam Houston State) will make his third start this season. In his last outing, he struck out 15 batters at Mayo Field against the Stingers. The Honkers come home Monday to play their third game in the SCHEELS Highway 63 Cup against the Waterloo Bucks; the game is set for 1:05 p.m.  

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The Rochester Honkers are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 21st season of summer collegiate baseball, the Northwoods 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 115 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (DET), 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, visitwww.rochesterhonkers.com.