WILLMAR — Brian Pruett drove in the winning run with a nubber down the first base line and T.J. Whidby pitched into the eighth inning in his final game of the season as the Willmar Stingers walked off against the Alexandria Blue Anchors 6-5 on Wednesday at Bill Taunton Stadium.
The ninth-inning rally happened without the benefit of a hard-hit ball, starting with Brett Barbier’s leadoff single blooped over first baseman Rickey Sanchez’s head.
Max Ayoub followed with a walk, and both runners advanced on an errant pickoff throw by Alexandria reliever Rob Mouton.
No. 9 hitter Frankie Rios then singled to right to score Barbier with the tying run and brought up Pruett, who swung at the first pitch he saw and rolled a soft grounder towards first base.
Sanchez fielded it and tagged Pruett, but his throw home was too late to catch Ayoub scoring the winning run.
“That was impressive,” Stingers’ manager Drew Saberhagen said. “Pruett just did the job. We hit some balls really hard right at people, and then you get three cheap base hits (to win it). That’s the way baseball works sometimes. ”
Willmar trailed 5-4 after Sanchez chased Whidby with a go-ahead, two-run homer with two outs in the eighth.
The Stingers righthander, a junior out of UT-Arlington, was making his last start of the season due to an innings limit.
Whidby surrendered two unearned runs in the first, but made quick work of the Blue Anchors in the middle innings, allowing just a fourth-inning home run to Jeremy Hyde.
He struck out seven and walked one, but it was a big one: A free pass to Craig Nennig leading off the eighth who came around to score on Sanchez’s home run two batters later.
Whidby — who led the Stingers last season with 58.1 innings pitched and has 58.2 this year — said he’d be open to coming back for a third go-round with the Stingers next summer if he’s not drafted. As it stands, his 117 innings are already second in Stingers’ team history, trailing only Scott Lieser’s 120.1.
“I just take care of my arm and make sure I prepare for each start,” Whidby said. “I go out and compete and try to do the best I can. It’s just an honor to have this opportunity to play here.”
It’ll be bittersweet for Whidby, who will miss the Stingers’ playoff appearance in two weeks.
“I’m going to watch every game,” he said. “I’ll be there in spirit.”
The Stingers built a 4-3 lead with a three-run fifth. Jack Ross and Barbier reached on a single and hit batter, and Ayoub drove in Ross with a double to deep right field.
Barbier scored on a Rios groundout, and Ayoub came in with the fourth run when he stole third and scored when the throw from catcher Aaron Gretz went wild.
Will Lydon pitched 1.1 scoreless innings to pick up the victory.
The Stingers’ roster underwent some changes the last week, losing outfielder Dan Motl, infielders Troy Kuhn and Hutton Moyer, and pitchers Josh Matheson and Garrett Anderson due to injuries and other concerns.
Recent roster additions include pitchers Phoenix Sanders, Christian Turnipseed and Joe Zorn, infielder Matt Stubbs, and outfielder Max Waletich. Third baseman Joey Hanowski, who was a temp player early in the year, will also return.
“You win the first half and there’s not a lot to play for in the second half,” Saberhagen said. “I’m just trying to get them to look at the guy next to them and start playing for each other and really cherish these last two weeks. Just get back to doing the little things and I think we did that tonight.”