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NWL Baseball: Stingers clinch playoff spot

WILLMAR — The Willmar Stingers outlasted Rochester 10-9 on Saturday night and the victory, coupled with a Waterloo loss earlier in the day, clinched a playoff spot for the Stingers.

The Northwoods League crowns first- and second-half champions from its North and South Divisions, with the four winners meeting in the league playoffs in August. The Stingers are now 21-7 and will have the North Division's top winning percentage when the season's first half ends Monday.

From the get-go, the game was all about offense, as the Stingers notched four runs out of the gate in the bottom of the first inning. Brian Pruett led off the game reaching on an error, and the rest of the offense followed suit. Jack Ross came up next with a double and Pruett got driven in by an RBI groundout by Reagan Fowler. Three more runs came in during the inning off a double by Nick Rivera, a single by Max Ayoub, and a fielder's choice grounder by Frankie Rios.

In the very next half inning Rochester scored a run to get within three but Willmar added three more in the bottom of the third to open up a six-run lead. Max Dutto drove in a run with an RBI double for the first run of the inning, but Brian Pruett did most of the damage with a two RBI triple, just the second triple of the season for the Stingers.

But as has been the case this season between the Honkers (18-14) and Stingers, the game went all the way down to the wire. After three runs in the fourth and five in the sixth, the Honkers snatched the lead, but it didn't last for long. In the bottom of the sixth inning after giving up the five runs and the lead, Willmar tied the game on one of the biggest cluth hits of the season. With two out in the inning after a double play, Casey Hughston kept the inning alive with a single to left field. Max Ayoub then followed on an 0-1 count and hammered the ball barely over the wall in right field for his second home run of the game to tie the matchup at nine.

In the very next half inning Brian Pruett led off with a single and came all the way around to score without another hit in the inning, the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run.

Josh Matheson came on for the save in the ninth and got into a second and third, one-out jam but struck out the final two batters of the game to secure the save and the win for Will Lydon. Ayoub led all Stingers hitters with his 4-for-5 performance at the plate that included the home run along with three RBI.

See Monday's Tribune for more on Saturday's and Sunday's games.

-- Team and Tribune report