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NWL Baseball: 2013 Stingers bid farewell to Willmar

Willmar’s Marc Flores, left, the Northwoods League co-MVP, laughs with Stingers’ teammates Zack Tillery, middle, and Tyler Leffler, right, before the team’s final 2013 game at Bill Taunton Stadium on Sunday in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ben Brewster.

WILLMAR — Though the Willmar Stingers came up short for a playoff spot, the 2013 season was not short on highlights.

The Stingers had two playoff races that came down to the final week, their first league MVP, and a first-round draft pick.

Willmar 1B/OF Marc Flores won the Northwoods League co-MVP award with Duluth’s Keith Curcio, the league announced before Sunday’s games.

Flores said he woke up to a text Sunday morning saying that he’d won.

“I was really tired, but I woke up immediately and I was super excited and I couldn’t fall back asleep after that,” he said.

The senior out of Hawaii had a record-setting season for the Stingers. He broke Michael Suchy’s franchise single-season RBI mark with 64, which was also good for third all-time in the NWL. His 26 doubles set the all-time league record, beating out Wausau’s Jeremy Frietas who had 25 all the way back in 1995.

Flores finished with a .352 average, 13 home runs and a 1.007 OPS.

The team ended at 41-29, two games behind the Duluth Huskies in the NWL North Division playoff race. In the first half, the Stingers were 23-12 for a .657 winning percentage but came up 1.5 games short behind the 24-10 Waterloo Bucks, who set the league’s overall record with 51 wins.

The Stingers only played Waterloo once in the first half, and Hollod said he wished they could’ve seen them a few more times.

“It’s tough to really judge them,” he said. “I think we matched up against them pretty good.”

The Bucks won the second half as well, so the second playoff spot went to the team with the next-best overall record. The Stingers struggled to a 18-17 second-half record, but stayed in the race to the end thanks to their strong first half and going 7-3 in their last 10 games. Duluth ended its season with a seven-game winning streak to lock up the playoff spot.

“I think as a team we still had a great year,” Stingers’ third baseman Max Kuhn said. “Waterloo was hot, Duluth was hot. It was just an overall great year from both divisions.”

The loss of pitchers Abe Bobb, Steven Brault, Max Homick and Andrew Crook proved to be the Stingers’ downfall in the second half.

Brault and Homick were both selected in the 2013 MLB draft, and Bobb and Crook were sent home after reaching their summer innings limits.

At the time of Bobb’s departure, he was leading the league with a 1.12 ERA over 40 innings.

Willmar pitched well down the stretch, but Hollod said it took some time for the new starting rotation to settle in.

“When we lost those pitchers earlier in the year, these guys that are pitching now for us —(Sheldon) Lee, (Josh) Matheson, (Jack) Hegarty, (Nick) Bates — those guys were all in relief roles when we had to move them into the starting rotation,” Hollod said. “The reason we were good in the first half was pitching and defense.”

Brault and Homick were two of 15 current and former Stingers to go pro this season.

Hunter Dozier, the Stingers’ 2012 shortstop, was the No. 8 overall pick to the Kansas City Royals, easily becoming the highest draft pick in Stingers’ history. Three other former players — Mikey Reynolds, Forrestt Allday and Ricky Knapp — went in the top 10 rounds.

The Stingers also said what could be their final goodbyes to two fixtures in the lineup the last two seasons in Suchy and Kuhn, as both will be juniors and draft-eligible.

Suchy wrapped up two outstanding seasons, batting .338 over the two years with 19 total home runs.

His 62 runs scored were tied with Waterloo’s Chesny Young for tops in the NWL this season. 

Kuhn was a steady presence at third base and in the middle of the lineup. He hit .280 this season with six home runs and was second on the team with 46 RBIs.

He said the biggest thing he’ll take away from his experience was the everyday grind of the game.

“No matter if you’re feeling good or feeling bad, you’ve still got to go out there and play your best on the baseball field,” Kuhn said.

Flores added that the memories will be important to him.

“I met a lot of a great people,” he said. “I got to play baseball every day and I got a lot of friendships out of this league.”

Hollod said having Flores, Suchy and Kuhn in the middle of the lineup was big for the offense.

“This team, unlike the previous three years, doesn’t really steal bases,” he said. “We’re not nearly as fast so we’ve got to find other ways to make up for that. When you have guys in the middle of the order who can drive the ball and get RBIs without stealing, it helps.”

Hollod wrapped up his fourth season at the helm of the Stingers and moved into the top 10 winningest managers in NWL history with 160. 

“I think it’s pretty cool that for four years now we’ve had a team each year that’s competed to go into the playoffs,” Hollod said. “Not many teams can say that. We consistently put out a team that competes and plays well. I think that’s what I’m most proud of.”

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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