Stingers snap MoonDogs' 7-game winning streak
WILLMAR -- Mankato reliever Stephen Rice couldn't find the plate and it led to another come-from-behind win for the Stingers, 6-4, over the MoonDogs Thursday at Bill Taunton Stadium.
The Stingers have won three in a row to improve to 16-12, but they again failed to make ground on Northwood League North Division leader Alexandria, which defeated Rochester 7-3. Willmar remains 4.5 games back with 10 games left.
With the game 3-3 in the eighth inning, the Stingers' Mitch Rowan led off with a single. Jason Leblebijian followed with a dribbler to second base and beat the throw for an infield hit.
"I was supposed to get the bunt down but I messed that up," Leblebijian said. "He threw a curveball and I hit it the other way and it did the job."
Rice then issued back-to-back walks, the first to Pat Stover to load the bases and Mitch Delfino drew the second on four pitches to force Rowan in from third and give Willmar the lead.
It unraveled from there for Mankato. Willmar's Blake Shepherd broke the game open with a two-run single to make it 6-3. That would be plenty for the Stingers.
Mankato added a run in the ninth off reliever Jack Shannon but Tanner Banks came in to close it down and retired the MoonDogs in order for the win.
Leblebijian put the Stingers on the board early with a two-run home run in the first inning. It was his seventh of the year, which has seen an unexpected power surge.
"In two years of college I have no home runs," he said. "I've been working with coach (Brandon) Cohen, working to stay through the ball. Before you know it, balls are going over the fence."
Stinger starter Dan Russell pitched well, striking out six and walking one in six innings, but made one mistake to Mankato's Shaun Cooper, who hit his Northwoods League-leading 17th home run to give the MoonDogs a brief 3-2 lead.
The Stingers tied it up in the fifth when Stover hit a one-out single off Mankato starter Matt Dunbar. Logan Willard came on in relief for the MoonDogs, in his Northwoods League debut, and walked John Haberman. After Delfino popped out, Shepherd hit a grounder to shortstop Matt Reida, who relayed a throw to second baseman Sam Lind, but Lind dropped the throw allowing Stover to score on what would've been the third out.
Notes: Cooper's 17 homers tie him with Jay Gibbons for the second-most in Northwoods League history. He now trails only Jason Washam, who hit 19 for Rochester in 1994. Gibbons is an 11-year major league veteran who has hit 127 home runs in his career. He currently plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers. ... It was "Jerseys off our Back" night for the Stingers. Each player's jersey was auctioned off during the game and the winning fan received the jersey afterwards, signed by the player. The most expensive jersey was Delfino, which went for $250. All the proceeds, over $3,500, went to Willmar-area food shelves.