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Stingers wrap up 2011 season with victory

By Ben Brewster

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Stingers couldn't catch the Alexandria Beetles in the Northwoods League North Division standings, but they put a beating on them in Sunday's game, winning 8-3 in the last game of the season.

The Stingers finish in second place, 5½ games behind the first-place Beetles in the second half. Willmar beat Brainerd 15-3 on Saturday to end its season with two convincing wins after a tough road trip in Thunder Bay.

"We had a bad trip up in Canada. We didn't play well," Stingers' manager Matt Hollod said. "We've been really consistent all year with our offense and when you go through a three-game stretch where you only score two runs, it's bound to go the other way."

Willmar rallied right out of the gate in the first inning. They got an assist from the Beetles' defense, as a pair of two-base errors helped the Stingers jump out to a quick 4-0 lead.

With Mitch Rowan on first base and one out, Eduardo Gonzalez hit a hot groundball to Beetles' first baseman Mike LaViseur. LaViseur couldn't handle it and Gonzalez took second base while Rowan took third. Pat Stover drove them both in with a single.

The rally continued when Sean Dwyer hit a single to right that got past Mike Theofanopolous and rolled all the way to the wall. Stover scored from first and Dwyer ended up on third base and would later score on a groundball by Mitch Delfino.

It was smooth sailing from there. Alexandria scored in the second, third and seventh innings, but couldn't erase the early deficit.

Ben Burns started for the Stingers. He allowed two runs in five innings to pick up the win.

The Beetles' position players fared better on the mound than their pitchers.

With the division already won and down by five runs, Alexandria rested its pitchers in the final innings.

Shorstop Nick Gumm set the Stingers down in order in the sixth inning. Infielder Tanner Vavra, son of Minnesota Twins' hitting coach Joe Vavra, took the seventh, and catcher Robert Case pitched the eighth.

The three combined for three innings and zero runs allowed on two hits.

Shawn Riesgraf started and took the loss for Alexandria in just one inning of work.

The Stingers played well down the stretch but still couldn't keep up with Alexandria.

"We put together a run towards the end of the year," Hollod said. "We went through a stretch where we were 9-3 and we actually lost a game in the standings because (the Beetles) kept winning."

Notes: Anthony Bemboom homered for the Stingers. It was his second of the season. ... Rowan went 4-for-4 with a stolen base, a double and two runs scored ... Dwyer was 3-for-4. ... Stover finishes the season as the Stingers' leader in batting average with a .337 mark. He was closely trailed by Rowan (.333) and Gonzalez (.323). ... Blake Shepherd led the team with nine home runs. Dwyer and Jason Leblebijian tied for second with seven. Leblebijian also led the team with 37 RBIs. ... Jack Shannon was the team's ERA leader with a 1.27 mark, more than a run lower than second-place Ricky Knapp (2.63).