St. Cloud, MN – The St. Cloud Rox finished the 2020 Northwoods League season with a stellar record of 27-13, fielding one of the most talented teams in franchise history. The team finished 17-3 at home, the best winning percentage (.850) at Joe Faber Field any Rox team has ever had.
Once sitting at 10-10 on the season, St. Cloud quickly became the team to beat in the Minnesota/Iowa pod after finishing 17-3 over the final 20 games. Its pitching staff had a 3.45 ERA, the best of any team in the pod.
The Rox finished a half-game behind the Waterloo Bucks, almost winning the Northwoods League Regional Championship. For the second year in a row, St. Cloud clinched the Highway 23 Series Trophy after winning the series against the Willmar Stingers, 8-5.
Zane Mills (Washington State) was named the Rox Pitcher of the Year after being one of the best pitchers in the Northwoods League. The Opening Day starter pitched 31 innings and gave up an astounding two runs, finishing with a 0.58 ERA. Over his final three starts, he hurled a combined 21 innings, struck out 22 batters, issued three walks, and did not allow a run.
Blake Stelzer (Concordia-St. Paul), in his second season with the team in the closer role out of the bullpen, was awarded with the Rox Team MVP award. He finished tied for the team lead in wins with three and led the squad in saves with seven.
With the season starting on July 1st, the Rox only played 40 games compared to the typical 72-game regular season. This allowed for the team to bond and gel together a week before the season started with practice time at Joe Faber Field.
The home opener was a memorable one, as St. Cloud played in what would be its first of five extra-inning games this season. Trailing 5-1 early in the game, Jack Kelly (Minnesota) helped drive in three-runs. Andrew Pintar (BYU) smashed a walk-off single in the 11th inning that gave the Rox and the Rock Pile faithful a 7- 6 win.
The following day at Mayo Field, Cody Kelly (Minnesota) made his Rox debut, the St. Michael native, and the younger brother of Jack Kelly, had just graduated from high school in June. Playing in his first baseball game in 11 months, he hit the first home run of the Rox season in the 9th inning. The younger Kelly would finish the season with a .362 on-base percentage.
On July 20th, St. Cloud won its most thrilling game of the season at Riverfront Stadium. Sitting, the Rox were in search of momentum in the fourth week of the season. Down 3-1 in the top of the ninth inning, and down to their final out, Jordan Barth (Augustana) drilled a two-run double to left field that tied the game. After Kevin Davis (USC-Upstate) pitched 2.2 strong innings, Augie Rodriguez turned to RJ Martinez (Minot State) out of the bullpen. With the winning run on third base, he worked a ground ball to first base to get out of the jam. Martinez once again delivered on the mound in the bottom of the 10th inning. With the winning run on third base, he struck out Oraj Anu on a 90 mph fastball. Then in the bottom of the 11th inning, the Rox found themselves leading 5-4. With two outs and one of the fastest players in the league on second base, Waterloo’s Xane Washington, a base hit to left field gave him a chance to score. Ben Norman (Iowa) fielded the ball and threw out Washington at the plate to end the game.
Two nights later, St. Cloud found themselves in another extra-inning game. This time, it was at the Rock Pile at Joe Faber Field. Trailing 6-4 in the bottom of the 11th inning to the Willmar Stingers, Jack Kelly delivered one of his most clutch hits of the season. He drilled a two-run double to left field that tied the game. Then down 8-6 in the bottom of the 12th inning, Andrew Pintar (BYU) crushed an RBI-double to left field. In the next at-bat, Collin Montez (Washington State) roped a two-run single to right field and walked-off Willmar to win 9-8.
ICYMI Collin Montez was the hero for St. Cloud last night! Down by one in the 12th, Montez doubles down the right-field line to score the winning two runs!
— St. Cloud Rox (@StCloudRox) July 23, 2020
The last week of July featured the longest homestand of the season for the Rox. They began the stretch .500 at 10-10 on the season. The team strung together six consecutive wins, sweeping Rochester, Willmar and Waterloo to put them back into title contention.
On August 7th, St. Cloud put together one of its best single-game pitching performances in franchise history. Luke Albright (Kent State) struck out ten batters over 5.1 innings pitched and did not allow a hit in the start. Kevin Davis (USC-Upstate) followed him out of the bullpen and didn’t give up a hit. The Rox took their combined no-hit bid into the bottom of the eighth inning. They beat Rochester 2-0.
From August 8th to August 13th, the Rox would play their rival Willmar a total of five times. St. Cloud won all five games. After beating the Stingers 5-1 at the Rock Pile on the 8th, the Rox beat the Stingers twice in a doubleheader on the 9th at Bill Taunton Stadium. Early in the game, Ben Norman (Iowa) successfully stole home on a straight steal. Down 5-2 in the night cap, Jordan Barth (Augustana) hit a two-run single that tied the game. St. Cloud scored three runs in the 10th inning and won 8-5.
After walking-off Willmar on the 12th at the Rock Pile, the Rox found themselves in another close daty on the road on the 13th. Leading 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning, closer Blake Stelzer worked himself out of the biggest jam of the season. With the bases loaded and one out, Stelzer forced a game-ending double play up the middle.
While many iconic moments were created on the field, many were made in the stands. The Rox were the highest level of baseball playing in the state of Minnesota until the Twins began their season in late July. These players from all over the country provided Central Minnesota with Rox Solid Fun through what has been a difficult year for so many.
Every player who dons a Rox uniform in the Northwoods League aspires to play professional baseball. Two players have already signed professional contracts. Gabriel Sequeira (Texas Wesleyan) signed with the Detroit Tigers in early July. Meanwhile Joey Stock (St. Johns), a three-year player with the Rox and a Cold Spring native, signed with the Boston Red Sox.
Congratulations to Joey Stock for signing a contract with the Boston Red Sox organization. Stock, a Central Minnesota native, played for your Rox during the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons.
— St. Cloud Rox (@StCloudRox) August 28, 2020
At one home game this season, over one-third of Major League Baseball franchises had scouts at the Rock Pile watching Rox players. With so much talent on the 2020 St. Cloud Rox team, it won’t be a surprise to many when this team has many players in professional baseball in years to come.