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Willmar, Minn., Stingers come up big in late innings

Stinger lead-off batter Rob Elliott beats out an infield hit as the throw comes to Thunder Bay first baseman Casey Selsor. Elliott later scored for a 1-0 first-inning lead. The two teams battled it out in a tight game through six innings before the Stingers broke it open in the seventh and eighth innings and held off a ninth-inning rally for an 11-7 win over the Border Cats Friday night at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Stingers earned a split of a two-game visit by the Northwoods team from over the border when they posted nine runs in the late innings to roll past the Border Cats of Thunder Bay, Ontario, 11-7 on Friday night.

Thursday night the two teams combined for 29 hits (16 by the Bees), 18 runs and some late fireworks. It was more of the same last night at Bill Taunton Stadium on another 80-degree evening.

There were 27 hits this time and 12 runners crossed the plate in the final three innings.

Thomas Taylor, the Stinger starter, got the win.

He went seven innings, allowing nine hits and three runs. Jack Shannon pitched a perfect eighth inning.

The Border Cats now bus to Brainerd for two games; Willmar is home to host St. Cloud the rest of the weekend.

The Stingers picked up one in the first when leadoff Rob Elliott beat out an infield grounder behind second base, stole second, then third and strode home on Pat Stover's hard single up the middle.

The B-Cats went up 2-1 with single runs in the second and the third off Thomas Taylor. Sean Dwyer's solo home run in the bottom of the third tied the score 2-2.

The team again matched single runs in the sixth. Stover's third hit of the game started the bottom of the frame. Jon Haberman walked and Jake Stinnett doubled home Stover to make it 3-3. With no outs and two on, B-Cats' starter Tyler Mack was replaced Ryan Lucero, who prevented any further damage.

The Stingers got their first lead since the first in the seventh. Elliott walked and then came all the way around on a double by No. 2 hitter Jason Leblebijian for a 4-3 lead. Haberman singled in Leblebijian for a 5-3 gap. Dwyer scored on a wild pitch later in the inning for a 6-3 Stinger lead.

The game exploded in the eighth with the Stingers posting five more runs. Again, the catalyst was Stover with a three-run double, his fourth hit of the game.

Typical of this two-game split, there was more scoring to come. The B-Cats came up with four runs in the top of the ninth before Kurt Spomer, the third pitcher of the night, finally closed the door.