Rochester Honkers 2014 Season Recap

The Rochester Honkers were resilient in 2014 – with three walk-off wins throughout the season, there was some hope the Honkers would break off the type of run necessary to make the Northwoods League Playoffs. Despite some historic moments and thrilling victories, the Honkers fell short of making the postseason. The Honkers did, however, put together the best season in Rochester since 2010, with an overall record of 37-35.

The Honkers started the season strong, winning eight of their first 11 games. On June 6, the Honkers won their game in Duluth with the help of seven Huskies errors, some good pitching in Nick Highberger’s (Creighton) first start of the season and some quality relief work from Logan Spitzack (St. Cloud State). But, from June 7-11, the Honkers went on a five-game losing streak the stalled much of their momentum gathered in the beginning of the season.

Over the course of their losing streak, the Honkers hit just .222 as a team with several key hitters all slumping at the wrong time.

Finally getting back on track, the Honkers won five out of their next seven games – capped by a sensational finish at Mayo Field on June 18. Down by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Thunder Bay Border Cats, Travis Hull (Chabot College) doubled in Connor Schaefbauer (Minnesota) all the way from first base to tie the game at six. Blaise Lezynski (Notre Dame) followed Hull with a long home run way over the right field fence to give the Honkers the win that evening, 8-6.

After losing a heartbreaking 16-inning marathon to Willmar, 6-2, on June 22, the Honkers needed to win the next day to salvage the series against the division leaders. The following day’s game would require 13 more innings to decide a winner, too.

Thanks to Seth Holbert’s (Sam Houston State) 15 strikeouts in his brilliant start, the Stingers’ offense was largely absent – Holbert’s 15 Ks were the most in a single game by a pitcher all season in the Northwoods League. But after the bullpen fumbled the lead, Ryne Roper (Illinois) was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Alex Schultz (Nebraska Omaha) walked with the bases loaded to tie the game back up, 5-5, in the 10th. Three innings later, in the bottom of the 13th inning, Connor Schaefbauer led the inning off with a triple and was promptly sent home on a game-winning single off the bat of Casey Fletcher (Illinois). With the first half of the season winding to a close, the win would give the Honkers a fighter’s chance at a first half playoff berth.

But Willmar was just too good in the first half and finished strong enough to take the first half, barely ahead of the Waterloo Bucks. The Honkers finished the first half with a 19-15 record, good for fourth place in the division, five games behind the leader Willmar.

To open the second half of the season, the Honkers started 2-6. Their first win of the half happened in dramatic fashion, as Corey Hassel (Oklahoma State) launched a go-ahead grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning on July 3 to give the Honkers an 8-5 win over Duluth. Losing four of five after that, could never really put together a real streak before the All-Star break that would propel them into playoff contention.

Honkers Matt Kent (Texas A&M) and Jeff Campbell (North Dakota) were the two players representing Rochester at this summer’s NWL All-Star Game at Kapco Park in Mequon, Wis. Kent was in the middle of a stretch on the mound where in three starts he allowed just one run in 23 innings, struck out 18 and walked just one. Campbell’s excellent work out of the bullpen and scorching hot bat as the Honkers’ designated hitter earned him a spot on the North Division’s roster, too.

Over the final stretch of the season, it seemed like the entire division was vying for a spot atop the North. Just two games separating the top seven teams, the Honkers could never quite make up enough ground to catch the leaders Willmar, Waterloo and Mankato. Rochester had plenty of other things to celebrate, though. Matt Kent became the Honkers’ all-time leader in innings pitched after his third season as a Honker with 228.1 in his career. And this summer another milestone was reached, Reid Roper (Illinois) began his unprecedented fourth season as a member of the Honkers on his way to becoming the team’s all-time leader in hits, walks, at-bats, RBIs and games – his total number of at-bats (783) is also an all-time Northwoods League record.

Roper capped his career with the Honkers in the team’s final home game of the regular season on Aug. 6 against St. Cloud. With two runners on base and the Honkers tied in the bottom of the 11th inning, Reid smacked a line drive home run over the right center field fence to give the Honkers a 6-3 win, the most iconic moment of the 2014 season for the Honkers.

Running out of steam toward the end, the Honkers closed the half finishing 18-20. Even with a far-from-ideal finish, the Honkers’ season was a success, no doubt. The annual organizational awards were handed out after the season’s conclusion when Alex Schultz received the recognition as the team’s Most Inspirational Player, Matt Kent earned Pitcher of the Year honors and Reid Roper was dubbed the Honker of the Year. The summer of 2014 will forever be unforgettable.