Stingers win one 'On the Rox'
WILLMAR - Caleb Ledbetter hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning and Tyler Reichenborn ended the affair one inning later with a walk-off sacrifice fly to give the Willmar Stingers a thrilling 4-3 win over St. Cloud on Monday at Bill Taunton Stadium.
The Stingers trailed 3-0 entering the eighth inning after Rox left-hander Aaron Rozek carved up the lineup for seven frames, but quickly went to work against the bullpen to come away with their second walk-off sac fly in one week.
"That's the guys out there fighting time and time again," said Bo Henning, who took over the Stingers' managerial duties when Eric Vasquez left to take a new job.
"Caleb putting together a tough at-bat like that, getting the pitch sort of up and out over the plate to give us new life, just says a lot about him and these guys," Henning said.
Marcus Still led off the bottom of the 10th inning against St. Cloud's Bobby Gauvreau with an infield single and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt before stealing third base. Gauvreau responded by putting both Danny Rodriguez and Josh Bissonette on base with intentional walks to set the stage for Reichenborn.
Down 1-2 in the count, Reichenborn lofted a fly ball to medium-depth right field, which was more than enough to easily score the speedy Still, who is the Stingers franchise record holder for stolen bases in a season.
Getting Rozek out of the game proved to give the Stingers just the sigh of relief and boost of energy they needed.
Rozek dominated Willmar batters, throwing seven scoreless innings and striking out 11 batters for the second consecutive start. It was the fourth time out of 10 starts this season that the left-hander struck out nine or more hitters.
"Getting to the bullpen, pretty much that was a boost for us," Henning said. "They saw that and said, 'We can relax a bit and keep grinding away.'"
Harrison Schnurbusch's single to lead off the eighth inning knocked Rozek from the game as St. Cloud's Jackson Rose took over in relief. All season long, that has been a bad sign for opponents, as the right-hander entered Monday's outing with just one run allowed and a 22-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15-2/3 innings.
That didn't matter to Willmar on this night, however.
The Stingers tagged him for two runs in the eighth on a Josh Bissonette two-out, two-strike single.
That set the stage for Caleb Ledbetter, who socked his game-tying home run to lead off the ninth inning. The homer tripled Rose's total of runs allowed on the season.
"You don't want to think too much in that spot," Ledbetter said. "I was just focusing on finding any way that I could to get on—keeping it simple."
Capped off with an ice water bath for Reichenborn courtesy of Nolan Bumstead, it was an emotional win for Willmar, which remained one game back of Mankato for first place in the second half and drew even with Waterloo for the first of two Wild Card spots.
"It was a shot in the arm for us tonight to face a series of guys with great arms, good breaking balls, and then to come away with a win despite that," Henning said. "Every [game] is a little more important now. To be able to come back from 3-0 against those pitchers is huge."
St. Cloud, the first-half North Division winner, tagged Willmar starting pitcher Luke Chevalier for single tallies in the first, fourth and fifth innings to claim a 3-0 lead. Matt Tarantino hit an RBI double to open the scoring in the first inning and Cameron Eden's two-out single plated a run in the fourth.
Chevalier ran into some bad luck in the fifth, as Keaton Kringlen's weak tapper squeaked past the mound for a run-scoring infield single.
While the two Rox relievers combined to allow four runs while recording just eight outs, Willmar's bullpen delivered a lights-out effort.
Myles Smith threw a scoreless sixth inning after taking over for Chevalier, who threw five innings and allowed seven hits, two walks and three runs while striking out two.
Calvin Coker made his last appearance as a Stinger before heading back to Auburn University a memorable one, striking out three over three scoreless innings.
Nick Mears pitched the 10th inning and picked up the win, throwing in the upper-90s and striking out one in a perfect frame.
Two-strike hitting played a pivotal role for Willmar to the win. After Bissonette cut the St. Cloud lead to 3-2 with a two-strike hit in the eighth, Ledbetter's homer and Reichenborn's game-winner both came in 1-2 counts. Still's 10th-inning single, meanwhile, came on a 3-2 pitch.
The Stingers and Rox cap the two-game series tonight at 7:05 p.m. at Bill Taunton Stadium.
Willmar 4, St. Cloud 3
St. Cloud 100 110 000 0-3 10 1
Willmar 000 000 021 1-4 10 0
Hitting - St. Cloud: Daniel Schneemann 3-4, Keaton Kringlen 2-5 rbi, Bobby Gauvreau (L) 0.2-1-1-1-0-0 ... Willmar: Luke Becker 1-5 r, Marcus Still 2-5 r sb, Danny Rodriguez 1-3, Josh Bissonette 1-3 rbi-2, Caleb Ledbetter 3-4 hr r rbi, Harrison Schnurbusch 2-4
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - St. Cloud: Aaron Rozak 7-6-0-0-1-11, Jackson Rose 2-3-3-3-0-4, B... Willmar: Luke Chevalier 5-7-3-3-2-2, Myles Smith 1-0-0-0-1-2, Calvin Coker 3-3-0-0-0-3, Nick Mears (W) 1-0-0-0-0-1