WILLMAR -- Clinging to a half-game division lead entering the day, the Willmar Stingers inched closer to a playoff spot with a 8-3 win over the Mankato MoonDogs on Thursday at Bill Taunton Stadium.
The Stingers gained ground on Alexandria in the Northwoods League North Division and lead the Beetles by two games with three regular-season games remaining. Willmar's closest competitor, the St. Cloud Rox, beat Waterloo 11-10 in 11 innings, and trail the Stingers by a half-game in the standings.
"I don't think St. Cloud's going to lose again," Stingers' manager Matt Hollod said. "They've got a lot of momentum going. I told our guys, we've got to win four games in a row. If St. Cloud loses, I feel like we got lucky."
No. 8 hitter Zach Benson sparked two rallies, including coming around to score the eventual winning run in the fifth He led off the inning with a single, stole second and took third on a wild pitch by Mankato reliever Zac Custer. Benson crossed the plate when Custer uncorked another wild pitch to break a 3-3 tie, giving the Stingers the lead for good.
"It's huge anytime you have production at the bottom of the lineup," Hollod said. "When you turn over the lineup, you've got guys that have over a .500 on-base percentage."
Hollod also mentioned No. 9 hitter J.D. Dorgan, who had two hits and scored a run.
"That's probably one of the reasons we won the game, those two," Hollod said.
The Stingers got on the board when Forrestt Allday led off the game with a walk and advanced to second on a Mitch Rowan groundout. Michael Suchy drove in his team-leading 62nd run with a single past the Mankato third baseman to score Allday.
Another leadoff walk, this time to Benson, hurt the MoonDogs in the second. After Benson reached, Dorgan followed with a double and Benson scored on an error by the second baseman on an Allday ground ball. Brennan Moore drove in Dorgan with a single to third.
Mankato pushed two across in the third and tied it up in the fifth on a Craig Massoni RBI-single.
Willmar added insurance runs in the seventh when Hunter Dozier came in to score on a bunt by Dorgan, and Brennan Moore hit a sacrifice fly to score Benson, who reached after getting hit by a pitch. Two more scored in the eighth on a Dozier RBI-double to score Corben Green, and Dozier came in on a wild pitch.
The Stingers are playing shorthanded, having lost starting pitchers Jerad McCrummen and George Asmus. Dillon Haupt was also shut down because of a lingering arm injury that he's been dealing with since the spring, and Allday has been relegated to designated hitter duty with an arm injury of his own.
Hollod said he believes in the team, even with the injuries.
"If guys go down, we've got to make do with what he have," he said.