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A 2015 Season Recap from the eyes of Austin Hamm

The Rochester Honkers came into the 2015 season with a new field manager for the ninth straight year and four years removed from their last appearance in the Northwoods League Playoffs. The team looked primed to make a splash this season though.

Trevor Hairgrove came in from UC Riverside to manage the team, and brought Demetre Kokoris form Chemeketa College in Oregon as a pitching coach and Shea Harris, who won a NWL championship with the Honkers in 2006, as a hitting coach.

The roster also looked incredibly strong at the outset of the year. Matt Kent was signed on for his fourth tour with Honkers after a stellar year with the Texas A&M Aggies and a NWL Co-Pitcher of the Year award in 2014. All-Big Ten shortstop Adam Walton was set to come in from Illinois. But the addition that had Rochester fans the most excited was Brad Mathiowetz, the former Mayo High School star who had just completed his freshman season at Des Moines Area Community College after being drafted by the Twins in the 35th round of the 2014 MLB Draft.

The Honkers started the season as many NWL teams do, shorthanded, as many players were still finishing their collegiate seasons. Jayson Yano (Stevens Institute) was tabbed the opening day starter, presumably keeping the ace spot warm until Kent got to town, but his debut was delayed as the Honkers opener was postponed due a to rain. The weather was a bit of a recurring theme in the first month of the season, as seven games were postponed, delayed or suspended by June 16th.

So instead of kicking the year of at Mayo Field, the Honkers opened up on the road at Mankato with a win as Yano pitched a seven inning scoreless gem. That launched an 8-2 start as the Honkers looked like they had returned to the upper echelon of the Northwoods. In that start, the Honkers starting pitching rotation looked strong, as Yano, Stevens Institute teammate Greg Jakusik and Tyler Feyereisen from St. Thomas reminded the league that D-III pitchers can be dominant.

With the strong start, the Honkers leveled off, but it felt as though the arrivals of players like Kent and Walton would turn the winning back on. But then the 2015 MLB first year player draft happened. Kent went to the Red Sox in the 13th round and Walton went to the Orioles in the 20th. Kent would sign, ending his amateur career and robbing Rochester of their presumptive top-of-rotation starter. Walton would decline the pros for a year and come to Rochester, but the batting order would suffer another hit right at that time as Mathiowetz would shut down for the summer with an injury.

With some changes running their way through the lineup, the Honkers cooled off and played .500 ball through the end of the first half, finishing just three games back of the Willmar Stingers for first place. Though they failed to secure that automatic berth into the playoffs with the half championship, the Honkers showed that they had what it took to compete for playoff spot by either winning the second half or qualifying as one of the top teams by overall record in the newly expanded playoff format.

That view point was affirmed at the start of the second half, as the Honkers rang of five straight victories. The most exhilarating game of that streak came in the final win. In a game marked by a smoky haze from wildfires in Canada, the Honkers and Thunder Bay Border Cats went into extra innings tied at four. With a runner on third, Will Paschal (Georgia Gwinnett) stepped into the batter’s box and knocked an RBI single into right field for a walk-off Rochester win.

Paschal took an interesting route to the hero’s role. A temporary player I the first half, Paschal saw substantial time at third for the Honkers and became a fan-favorite with his defensive intensity. The nature of his temporary contract saw him let go at the end of the first half, but injuries in the infield allowed the Honkers to bring him back in less than a week, and he delivered in the biggest way shortly after.

After the streak, the Honkers would falter, going 5-10 in their 15 games prior to the All-Star break, but that didn’t stop two Honkers from making a name for themselves at the All-Star festivities is Wisconsin Rapids. Yano was the only Honker named to the All-Star team, but Joe DeRoche-Duffin, the big slugger out of UCONN, would take part in the Home Run Contest after leading the North Division in home runs through the first two-thirds of the season. Duffin would give the whole league something to think about, including why the best power hitter in the North wasn’t an All-Star, hitting eight bombs as the leadoff man for the contest and taking the individual title with that total as no one would get closer than Anthony Gonsolin from Madison, who hit six over the wall. Duffin would also lead the North to a 22-21 victory in the team section of the contest, but the South would rise up in the actual All-Star game, and take a 3-1 win. Yano would throw one inning, allowing one hit and recording one strikeout,

Coming out of the break flat, the Honkers would drop three straight as part of a five game skid that spanned All-Star before reeling of a season high six-game winning streak. That streak included a two-game sweep of the playoff bound Duluth Huskies which the Honkers won by a combined score of 24-1 as they scored their highest run total of the season (15) in game two. The Honkers would clinch their first appearance in the playoffs since 2010 with that sweep, locking themselves into the top four in the division based on overall record.

Continuing the streaking pattern of the year, the Honkers would drop five games in a row before taking their final game of the regular season at Alexandria.

There is little time to rest in the NWL, and the day after the regular season ended, the Honkers headed to St. Cloud to take on the Rox(who finished the regular season with the best record in the Northwoods) in the single elimination first round of the NWL playoffs.

St. Cloud would trot out their hometown ace Reese Gregory for that one, and the Honkers would send Josh Pigg from Hawaii to the mound for the start. A brilliant start by both pitchers had a 0-0 game after three innings, but the Rox would score on two wild pitches, and hit a two run home run for a 4-0 lead that would secure the game, as the Honkers struggled at plate against Gregory, who threw a complete game, 3-hit, shut-out in the first home playoff game in the Rox franchise history. 

Yano and Duffin were both honored as part of the NWL Postseason All-Star team. Yano ended the year tied for the Honkers lead in wins with five and 2.40 ERA, while Duffin was top on both the Honkers and in the North division in home runs with 12. Matt Fiedler (Minnesota) was also a top performer for the Honkers, though he did not show up on leader boards as his status as a two-way player limited his at-bats and his innings pitched, but he still lead the Honkers in batting average (.354), RBI (37) and strikeouts (50). 

 

Austin Hamm
South Dakota State
2015 Rochester Honkers Media Intern