Local Roundup: Stingers walk-off Honkers
WILLMAR - Look out, Northwoods League. Here come the Willmar Stingers.
A back-and-forth affair finally went the Stingers' way on Tuesday night as Josh Bissonette's walk-off sacrifice fly completed a ninth-inning comeback in an 8-7 victory over the Rochester Honkers at Bill Taunton Stadium.
The Stingers extended their winning streak to six games and, with Mankato falling to Eau Claire on Tuesday, they hold a two-game lead in the North Division second-half standings.
"You look at the scoreboard, and once they score, we score," Bissonette said. "We don't back down and we don't give up.
"I think we're locked in but very relaxed. We just have good team chemistry and going forward, there's just a lot of good things with this team."
Willmar trailed 7-6 entering the bottom of the ninth after Rochester's Morgan McCullough hit a go-ahead RBI single in the top half of the inning.
But the Stingers—winners of six out of seven in the series between the sides this season— have had the Honkers' number all season long and they responded both quickly and furiously.
Tyler Reichenborn was hit by a pitch to lead off the ninth against right-hander Garrett Cobb, bringing Luke Becker to the plate. Becker, who walked a franchise-record tying four times on Monday night, was given the green light by manager Eric Vasquez and responded aptly.
"Once Tyler got on, I said, 'You got one swing,'" Vasquez said. "You give that kid one swing and he's going to take advantage of it."
Becker lined a triple to right field, scoring Reichenborn from first to tie the game at seven.
Rochester then intentionally walked Marcus Still—who hit three doubles and reached base all five times on the night—and Nolan Bumstead to load the bases. Danny Rodriguez struck out for the first out, bringing Bissonette to the plate.
Cobb fell behind in the count against the Willmar shortstop 2-0, forcing him to throw a fastball that Bissonette lofted to left field. Tagging from third base, Becker beat Mike Echavia's throw home.
"I was just trying to see pitches," Bissonette said. "I knew he was a little wild. I got to a 2-0 count and got a fastball that did the job. I'm just happy we came out with the win."
Did this victory, in particular, feel a little sweeter for the Stingers?
"It really did," Vasquez said. "The reason it did is because we're in first place. What it did is say, 'We're someone to contend with. You're going to see us in the postseason. We may not look like the most intimidating opponent, but we're going to hit the ball, and we're going to score.'"
Willmar plays an afternoon-evening doubleheader at Eau Claire today, then returns home for two more games against Rochester on Thursday and Friday.
On Tuesday, trailing 5-2 after the top of the fourth, Willmar plated two runs in both the fifth and sixth innings to claim a 6-5 lead. The Honkers tied the game on another run-scoring single by McCullough—who finished with three RBIs—in the seventh.
Still led the Stingers offense at the plate with his most impressive hitting performance of the season. The Willmar center fielder doubled and scored in the first inning, hit a ground-rule double to right-center field in the third and smoked a two-run two-bagger in the fifth inning to cut Rochester's lead to 5-4.
The catalyst for Still's night, according to the man himself: a new shipment of lumber.
"It's funny, we got our new bats today," Still said. "I picked up it and said, 'This feels good, I'm going to try it out.' I took it into the game and was seeing the ball great all night. I just felt good up there and was locked in."
Luke Chevalier started for Willmar and, although he was effective in missing bats to the tune of six strikeouts in 4-1/3 innings, he surrendered five runs. Two of those runs came via solo home runs by Echavia and Kenyon Yovan of Rochester—which leads the league with 62 homers as a team.
Rodriguez got the Stingers on the board with an RBI infield single in the first inning. Reichenborn, who officially finished 1-for-1 with a walk, hit by pitch and sacrifice fly, laced a two-run double in the sixth inning to give Willmar a 6-5 lead.
Connor Jahn was the winning pitcher after throwing 2-2/3 effective innings even despite allowing the go-ahead run in the ninth.
"I think we're locked in but very relaxed," Bissonette said. "We just have good team chemistry and going forward, there's just a lot of good things with this team."
Willmar 8, Rochester 7
Honkers 110 120 101-7 12 1
Stingers 110 022 002-8 10 0
Hitting - Rochester: Morgan McCullough 2-4 rbi-3, Kenyon Yovan 1-4 hr r rbi, Mike Echavia 1-4 r rbi ... Willmar: Luke Becker 1-5 3b r rbi, Marcus Still 4-4 2b-3 rbi-2 r, Danny Rodriguez 1-5 rbi, Josh Bissonette 1-4 rbi, Caleb Ledbetter 2-4 2b r-2, Tyler Reichenborn 1-1 rbi-3 r
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Rochester: Griffin Neuer 4.1-6-4-4-3-0, Ben Strahm 3.2-3-2-1-0-4, Garrett Cobb (L) 0.2-1-2-2-0-1 ... Willmar: Luke Chevalier 4.1-6-5-5-2-6, Kale Latorre 2.1-1-1-1-0-2, Connor Jahn (W) 2.1-5-1-1-0-2
Fergus Falls 1, Willmar 0
Errors hurt the Willmar VFW Post 1639 in two losses at Fergus Falls on Tuesday.
Willmar committed three errors in a 1-0 loss and Post 1639 made seven errors in a 12-5 loss.
Jayden Dierenfeld pitched well in the 1-0 loss, giving up just an unearned run and two hits while striking out six working five innings of the six-inning game.
Tanner Bauman doubled and Gunnar Banks had Willmar's other hit.
The the 12-5 loss, Willmar's Isaiah Riemersma and Bryan Weidemann both had two hits and drove in a run and Nate Spencer and Drey Dirksen both doubled and had RBIs.
Willmar 000 000-0 2 3
Fergus Falls 001 00x-1 2 0
Hitting - Willmar: Tanner Bauman 1-2 2b, Gunnar Banks 1-2 ... Fergus Falls: Nic Pearson 1-3 rbi
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Willmar: Jayden Dierenfeld (L) 5-2-1-0-1-6 ... Fergus Falls: Fronning (W) 6-2-0-0-0-5
Fergus Falls 12, Willmar 5
Willmar 002 210-5 12 7
Fergus Falls 282 00x-12 9 0
Hitting - Willmar: Caleb Owens 2-4 r, Jayden Dierenfeld 1-3 r, Drey Dirksen 1-2 2b rbi r, Isaiah Riemersma 2-3 rbi, Ashton Gregory 1-3, Bryan Weidemann 2-3 rbi r, AJ Backes 1-3 r, Nate Spencer 1-3 2b rbi, Jared Elkjer 1-3 rbi ... Fergus Falls: Ashwin Stratton 2-2 rbi r-2, Cole Knudson 2-4 rbi-3 r
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Willmar: Tanner Bauman (L) 1.2-5-10-1-5-2, Owens 1.1-3-2-2-1-1, Wade Fischer 2-1-0-0-2-1 ... Fergus Falls: Brock Kotschevar 3-9-4-4-1-3, Nic Pearson (W) 2-3-1-1-1-1, Stratton 1-0-0-0-0-3