WILLMAR -- The lack of pitching depth came back to haunt the Willmar Stingers as they fell to the Mankato MoonDogs 10-5 on Monday at Bill Taunton Stadium in their first-ever Northwoods League playoff game.
Stingers' starting pitcher Tanner Banks cruised through the first three innings but then threw more than 35 pitches in a three-run fourth inning. According to Northwoods League rules, if a pitcher surpasses 35 in an inning he can't stay in the game.
"The worst thing that could possibly happen, happened," Stingers' manager Matt Hollod said. "We had to take (Banks) out and we only had six arms."
To make matters worse, Scott Lieser and Michael Hahn were unavailable and Kody Gorden had to be saved for today's game, so it was up to Mark Lukowski, Kyle Fischer and Garrett Fischer to finish the game.
The Stingers came back in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game 3-3, but Lukowski surrendered a two-run home run to Mankato leftfielder Kyle Turner in the top of the fifth.
It was just the third homer of the year for Turner -- the first two came against Willmar's Andrew Pulido in the second game of the season May 31.
"Some guys have our number, just like we have guys who do well against certain teams," Hollod said.
Mankato led the rest of the way. After the MoonDogs knocked Kyle Fischer out in the seventh, twin brother Garrett Fischer, who has never pitched in college, came in to mop up in the eighth.
Banks and Mankato starter Adam Mott kept the game scoreless through the first three innings but the MoonDogs got to Banks in the top of the fourth when Chase Simpson drew a leadoff walk on a nine-pitch at bat. Audie Afenir singled and both runners moved up when the ball got past Forrestt Allday in centerfield. Simpson scored a batter later on a passed ball and, after a Craig Massoni walk, Cody Ferrell laid down a bunt to score Afenir. Chad Christensen knocked in the third run with a double.
The Stingers tied it when Michael Suchy led off with an infield single and Kenny Roberts was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second. Max Kuhn followed with a single up the middle to drive in Suchy. Hunter Dozier then hit a deep double to left field that barely stayed in the ballpark to score Roberts, and Zach Benson grounded out to score Kuhn.
Willmar scored one more in the fifth on a Suchy RBI single and another in the seventh on an RBI single off the bat of Mitch Rowan.
Allday, Brennan Moore, and Dozier had two hits each, and Allday scored two runs.
Lukowski was tagged with the loss, giving up three runs in two innings of work.
Mott earned the win, going six innings and striking out four.
Gorden will start Game 2, as the Stingers travel to Mankato for a 7:05 game today.
Hollod said pitching depth will be key for the rest of the series.
"We need to avoid 35-pitch innings," he said. "If we have a couple more I don't know how we're going to finish the games."