ST. CLOUD, MINN. – It was the epitome of a team effort. The pitching was not as dominant, the bats did not have the same pop, but the Stingers made enough plays to upend the St. Cloud Rox in a 6-5 victory. Up and down the lineup, Willmar (11-5) received contributions from everyone and withstood a late rally by St. Cloud (8-10) to assume the mantle as the top team in the Northwoods League.
The win gives the Stingers the league’s highest winning percentage and matches the team’s best winning streak of the season. The third straight win, however, was not without its challenges.
Michael Murray (Florida Gulf Coast) breezed through the first nine batters in order. Murray brought his ERA down more than two full runs to 6.55 and struck out four without issuing a single walk. However, when he encountered trouble in the home half of the fourth inning, allowing two consecutive hits that cut into the Stingers lead, he was replaced by Colin Poche (Arkansas). Poche impressed in his 2.1 innings pitched, logging three strikeouts keyed by a fastball that consistently zipped past the bats of would-be Rox hitters.
After Poche was charged with two runs that cut the Willmar lead to 4-3, Bobby McCormack (Baylor) steadied the proverbial ship in his sixth outing of the season. McCormack retired all four of the batters he faced and was relieved by Cody Hughes who struck out two batters to end the eighth inning.
In the ninth inning St. Cloud mounted its last gasp effort to claim victory, but Bret Dahlson recovered from a pair of doubles and a walk to earn his third save of the season.
The Stingers plated three runs in the third inning to break out of the scoreless game. It began when Logan Moon (Central Arkansas) drew his first of three walks in the game. After Moon stole second base, Jake Gronsky singled to centerfield to tally his fourth RBI of the season. Then, after falling down in the count 0-2 Marc Flores (Hawaii) continued his hot hitting by driving a ball to center field for a base hit with nobody out in the frame. Then one of four passed balls by Rox catcher Daniel Comstock put Gronsky (Monmouth) and Flores into scoring position, enabling Michael Suchy and Max Kuhn, respectively, to record groundout RBI.
Max Dutto (California) recorded the only extra-base hit of the game for Willmar on a two-out double that plated Kuhn (Kentucky) in the sixth inning, giving the Stingers a 5-1 lead.
Murray picked up his first win of the season for Willmar. The Stingers’ next game is against the Rox in St. Cloud and St. Lpuis pitcher Nick Bates will make his season debut.
NOTES: Flores’ groundout in the fifth inning ended a streak of reaching safely on seven straight plate appearances. Kuhn leads the team with 10 RBI. The four times that Willmar struck out are a season low. The Stingers have won 9 of their last 11 games.
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