WATERLOO, Iowa—Deadlocked in a heated postseason race, it was almost assured that that the Waterloo Bucks would be keeping a close eye on the Willmar Stingers as the two teams battled at Riverfront Stadium on Friday night.
But for a split second, they were not—and Harrison Schnurbusch and the Stingers made them pay for it.
Schnurbusch's steal of home to score the go-ahead run in the fifth inning would be all the run support right-hander Corey Binger would need, as he twirled eight one-run innings in a 2-1 win for Willmar.
The Stingers moved to 18-10 in the second half and remained in a tie for first place with Eau Claire. The win was Willmar's fifth in six tries against Waterloo, meaning that it now owns the tiebreaker, in addition to a one-game lead over the Bucks, if the two teams tied for the final Wild Card spot.
The lone blemish on Binger's line came in the second inning, as consecutive two-out doubles gave Waterloo an early 1-0 lead.
That run held up for Bucks starter Jared Crescentini until the fifth, when the Stingers loaded the bases with one out courtesy of a pair of walks and a hit batter. Marcus Still pounded a 3-2 pitch to shortstop, retiring Luke Becker on a forceout at second base, but there was no chance to double up the speedy center fielder.
That's when, at perhaps the most opportune time, Schnurbusch made the most heads-up baserunning play of the season for Willmar.
With Schnurbusch standing at third base after Still's chopper drew the score even, Bucks catcher Jake Viaene and third baseman Zach Malis converged at the mound for a meeting with Crescentini—a completely normal baseball happening, save for the one important detail they left out.
Not a single member of the Waterloo triumvirate asked the umpire for a time out, leaving the door wide open for Schnurbusch.
With nobody holding him on third and the plate unoccupied, Schnurbusch made the mad dash—or, rather, a nonchalant saunter home to score the go-ahead run.
The Bucks appealed for the umpiring crew to call Schnurbusch back to third base, but the call stood and Willmar held a 2-1 lead.
Schnurbusch's steal of home would prove to be the game-winning play as Nolan Bumstead struck out for the third out of the inning and neither team would score again.
Binger, who rejoined the team in late July on his second contract of the season, was making his first start since June 6 and improved to 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA on the year. Allowing five hits and three walks while striking out five, it was the second consecutive stellar outing from the Willmar pitching staff after it surrendered 20 runs to St. Cloud on Tuesday at home.
With the hard-throwing Nick Mears striking out the side in the ninth to earn the save, the Stingers swept the Bucks by only using two pitchers in both games of the series. Nick Lackney and Gus Varland combined to give up two runs in a win on Thursday.
Willmar only notched four hits with Danny Rodriguez owning two of them, but drew seven walks and were hit by a pitch. Becker reached base four teams with three walks and a single to improve his walks per plate appearance to 24.2 percent on the season.
The Stingers opened the day in three-way tie for first place, but Mankato fell to St. Cloud drop one game back in the race.
The regular season at Bill Taunton Stadium wraps up this weekend as Willmar comes home for a two-game series against Duluth. First pitch on Saturday is at 7:05 p.m.
Willmar 2, Waterloo 1
Stingers 000 020 000-2 4 1
Bucks 010 000 000-1 5 2
Hitting - Willmar: Luke Becker 1-2 bb-3, Danny Rodriguez 2-4, Tyler Reichenborn 0-2 r bb-2, Tyler Murray 1-4, Harrison Schnurbusch 0-3 r ... Waterloo: Zach Malis 1-3 bb, Nicola Mislinski 1-4 2b rbi, Jake Viane 1-3 2b r
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Willmar: Corey Binger (W) 8-5-1-1-3-5, Nick Mears (SV) 1-0-0-0-0-3 ... Waterloo: Jared Crescentini (L) 5.1-2-2-2-4-6, Matthew Perea 0.0-0-0-0-1-0, Carlisle Koestler 2.2-1-0-0-1-2, Ryan Dunne 1-1-0-0-0-2
St. Augusta 4, Bird Island 3
Bird Island was eliminated from the Region 11C playoffs when St. Augusta erased a three-run lead with a four-run fifth inning on Friday in Granite Falls.
St. Augusta's Travis Laudenbach worked a complete game, scattering seven hits and allowing two earned runs while striking out six.
Bird Island's Shawn Dollerschell had a hit and drove in two runs and Lane Stadther also had a hit, drove in a run and scored. Riley Kramer was 2-for-4.
Bird Island 003 000 000-3 7 1
St. Augusta 000 040 00x-4 6 5
Hitting - Bird Island: Trent Athmann 1-4 r, Lane Stadther 1-5 rbi r, Shawn Dollerschell 1-4 rbi-2, Dylan Gass 1-4, Riley Kramer 2-4, Austin Weis 1-4 r ... St. Augusta: Matt Skaja 1-3 rbi r, Adam Gwost 1-3 rbi, Brady Grafft 1-3 rbi
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Bird Island: Logan Sandgren (L) 4.1-5-4-4-3-2, Eric Gass 3.2-1-0-0-2-1 ... St. Augusta: Travis Laudenbach (W) 9-7-3-2-1-6