Stingers christen season with 7-1 win over Huskies

Duluth, MN — After finishing their first four seasons with 40-plus wins, the Willmar Stingers have become accustomed to winning and that continued Tuesday night in the opening game of the 2014 Northwoods League season. Behind a solid outing from starting pitcher Will Lydon and an offensive outburst in the late innings, the Stingers emerged victorious over the Duluth Huskies by a final score of 7-1 in the season opener.

Following a quiet top of the first inning, Lydon began the bottom of the first with two quick outs. But the Huskies’ third hitter Dominic Brugnoni offered a quick wakeup call when he went deep off Lydon to put Duluth (0-1) on the board and give it a 1-0 lead. But although the Huskies struck first, it was the only run they would score in the game and only one of four total hits scattered by the Stingers' staff over nine innings.

It took some time for the Stingers’ offense to get in gear and in the fourth inning Willmar (1-0) broke into the score column to knot the game at one. After two quick outs to start the inning, Stingers’ first baseman Nick Rivera started the rally off with a walk. Sam Hall was the next batter and got hit by a pitch, setting up third baseman Tyler Hanson with a two-on, two-out situation. On the fourth pitch Hanson drove a single to score Rivera and tie the game.

Neither offense did much for the next several innings, and the game remained deadlocked until the Stingers went to bat in the top of the eighth inning. With Huskies’ starter Bo Hellquist leaving after five innings, the Stingers faced the Duluth bullpen in the last four innings and finally broke through with Jake Popovich on the mound in the eighth. Left fielder Scott Smith led the inning off with a double to right center field. With Sean Beesley at the plate, Smith advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored when Huskies’ catcher Nate Krause’s throw down to third got away from Mac James. Smith’s run would prove all the Stingers needed, although they ended up tacking on another run in the inning.

After a scoreless bottom half of the eighth, Willmar’s offense made sure the win would stand up by padding the lead with four more runs. Following a single by Max Ayoub, a walk by Max Dutto and a wild pitch, shortstop Brian Pruett sliced a single to right field to score both Ayoub and Dutto to put the Stingers up 5-1. Pruett took second base on heads up base running on the play and eventually came home on a throwing error by Krause. After breaking the tie in the eighth, Smith fittingly was the last run to score in the ninth after getting driven home by a Rivera, who finished with two RBI on the night.

Although Lydon picked up a no-decision in his first outing having left with the score still tied at one, he threw six innings of two-hit ball while striking out five and was a key part of the Stingers’ opening day win. Jake Popovich suffered the loss for the Huskies while Brantley Claunch picked up the win in relief for the Stingers. The win also marked the first victory for the Stingers with field manager Drew Saberhagen at the helm.

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Tonight’s Center for Diagnostic Imaging player of the game was Will Lydon. CDI is your local medical imaging provider. It’s your choice where you go for medical imaging, for MRI, CT, mammograms and pain injections, choose CDI. Visit online at