ROCHESTER, MN — Rochester Honkers (4-18) starter Chris Stefl (0-3, St. John’s) was in a competitive game down 3-2 when he entered the fourth inning. Facing the bottom third of the Willmar Stingers (16-8) lineup, Stefl got the first two hitters out by way of fly balls, setting up a matchup with the previously .171-hitting Drey Dirkson.
On the first pitch of the at-bat, Dirkson smashed one to left-center, making it a 4-2 game off his first homerun of the year. That would mark the beginning of the end, as Stefl walked the next hitter, Griffin Cheney, before last year’s third-team All-American Kyle Manzardo took his own homer to left-center, this time scoring two. Stefl’s afternoon was done, but the Stingers’ offense was not finished yet.
Reliever Evan Gray (Arkansas) was welcomed to the game with a first-pitch, solo shot to left by Tyler Wilber — the Stingers third of the game at that point. They would blast another in the next inning, marking four on the game.
Gray would walk the next three hitters before getting Brennan McKenzie, the hitter who flew out to right to start the inning, to do the same thing for the final out of the frame.
In the final third, Honkers relief put down the Stingers 1-2-3. Jack Zalasky (Sacramento State) extended his scoreless-innings streak to nine and two-thirds innings, while A.J. Campbell (Frostburg State) strung together his third-straight, multi-inning outing. Campbell’s three strikeouts lifted his K-count to 14.
The Honkers’ offense was able to get guys on in seven of nine innings, tallying six hits to go with five walks and a hit batter. With the two runs scored in the third and eighth innings, each, the outline of a winning game plan was drawn.
Pearce Howard (New Orleans) had a breakout performance, going three-for-five from the plate with two doubles and a run scored. He bumps his batting average up to .279. He stands at third on the team in that category. His four extra-base hits are tied with Taison Corio (Cal Poly) and Ryan Wrobleski (Dallas Baptist) for third on the Flock.
The Team in Teal will complete the two-game series against the Stingers tomorrow night with a 6:35 first pitch. It is the middle game of a three-game homestand. “Honkers Pregame Live!” starts at 6:30 and can be found only at Portal.StretchInternet.com/NWL.
Be sure to connect with the Honkers on social media by liking them on Facebook and following them on twitter @RochHonkers and Instagram @HonkersBaseball. Join the conversation by using the hashtag #UnlockTheFlock!
By Simon Williams