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Stingers pound St. Cloud 11-3

Tribune photo by Tom Larson Willmar Stingers second baseman Jake Gronsky charges and scoops up a ground ball to get an out at first base as St. Cloud’s Eric Loxterkamp heads for second during the Stingers’ 11-3 win over the Rox on Monday at Bill Taunton Stadium.

WILLMAR — With the Northwoods League season winding down, it’s a race to the finish between the Willmar Stingers, Mankato MoonDogs and Duluth Huskies.

If the Stingers can hit like they did Monday, they’ll have a good chance at a postseason berth.

Behind a Nick Halamandaris home run, two RBIs from Marc Flores and a strong start by Colin Poche, the Stingers upended the St. Cloud Rox 11-3 at Bill Taunton Stadium.

“We’re going to need to hit,” Stingers’ manager Matt Hollod said. “If we get someone to step up and throw well it’s going to give us a pretty good shot at winning.”

Halamandaris’ home run, a three-run shot off St. Cloud starter Evan Wolf, was the big blow and gave the Stingers a 7-2 lead in the fifth inning.

“(Halamandaris) has been swinging it well,” Hollod said. “I gave him three out of four days off last week and it really freshened him up a bit.”

It was the Stinger first baseman’s fifth home run of the year, and his two hits on the night raised his season batting average to .260.

Poche pitched into the seventh inning, scattering 11 hits and striking out seven.

He briefly ran into trouble in the second when Blake Headley drew a two-out walk and scored on a double to straightaway centerfield by Dustin Breshears. Eric Loxtercamp then deposited a single to right to score Breshears, but Poche got Devin Pearson to ground out to end the inning.

“(Poche) had a good start,” Hollod said. “Hopefully we’re in this thing on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday will be (Andrew) Woeck and Sunday will be Poche. Those guys have been the most consistent pitchers, so to get back to them we need some other guys to step up.”

The Stingers gave Poche runs to work with right off the bat with a three-run rally in the first inning on four hits, including RBI singles from Flores and Halamandaris.

Flores’ single scored two, giving him 61 on the season — one short of Michael Suchy’s team record of 62, set last year.

Suchy was 4-for-4 on Monday, and Flores had three hits to bump his average up to .352.

The Stingers, Duluth Huskies and Mankato MoonDogs are within one game of each other in the season standings, with six games left to play. Whichever team comes out on top will play the Waterloo Bucks in the first round of the NWL playoffs.

The Stingers are 13-16 in the second half of the NWL North Division and 36-28 overall.

“It’s going to be a tight race,” Hollod said. “We’re going to have to go on a run. Probably going to have to go 4-2 or 5-1, and get a little bit of help too.”

Ben Brewster

Ben Brewster covers the Willmar Stingers and other area sports, as well as laying out the daily sports section cover for the West Central Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @benbrewster.

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