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NWL Baseball: Stingers win in heart-stopping fashion again

Tribune photos by Ben Brewster Willmar Stingers right fielder Casey Hughston leaps to rob Rochester’s Blaise Lezynski of an extra-base hit during the third inning of a Northwoods League game on Thursday at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar.

WILLMAR — The big hits just keep on coming for the Stingers.

Frankie Rios was the hero Thursday, lining a single in the bottom of the 10th to score Jack Ross and give the Stingers a 5-4 win over the Rochester Honkers at Bill Taunton Stadium.

Rios, who entered the game in the ninth as a defensive replacement at third base, singled a 2-1 fastball from Rochester’s Levi Lochner with the bases loaded and one out to end a back-and-forth contest that saw 24 hits, eight errors and eight runners thrown out on the bases between the two teams.

“I didn’t think I was going to get up,” said Rios, who was fifth to bat in the 10th. “I took my warmup swings and tried get ready, tried to get a pitch I liked.”

The Stingers were stymied early by Honkers’ starter Matt Kent, the Northwoods League’s ERA leader, who also picked off three Willmar baserunners through the first four innings.

“We hit the ball well,” Stingers’ manager Drew Saberhagen said. “Kent picked us off and tooks us out of our running game, but we took advantage of a couple errors and the guys just kept playing.”

Willmar got to Kent in the fifth when Matt Stubbs walked and came around to score on second baseman Corey Hassel’s fielding error.

They picked up two more in the sixth on Brett Barbier’s RBI double and an error to Honker third baseman Reid Roper on Max Ayoub’s sharp ground ball.

Rochester had built a 4-1 lead with RBI base hits by Alex Schultz and Travis Hull in the second, a Reid Roper solo homer in the fourth, and Reid Roper’s sac fly in the sixth.

Pinch runner Brady Anderson, who came in for Stubbs after a leadoff double, scored the tying run for the Stingers on a Jeff Campbell wild pitch with one out in the ninth, sending the game to extras.

Ross started the 10th-inning rally with a leadoff single to center, and aggressively took second on Casey Hughston’s flyout to right field. Brett Barbier drew an intentional walk and Ayoub was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Rios.

“That’s tough to do, sitting for nine innings and coming off the bench,” Saberhagen said. “He made a big play at third to end the top of the 10th and then coming up and driving a ball through the middle.”

Ross had three hits on the night, and Barbier and Brian Pruett had two each.

A.J. Puckett kept the Stingers in the game, giving up four runs — two earned — in seven innings, and struck out five with a fastball consistently in the low 90s.

“That was the best Puckett’s looked by far,” Saberhagen said. “He didn’t have his offspeed stuff, but his fastball was electric.”

Colton Boucher, who has a 1.28 ERA in 14 innings since joining the Stingers in early July, grabbed the win in relief with three scoreless innings.

The Stingers improved to 19-14 in the Northwoods League North Division second half, but stayed half a game out of first with Waterloo also winning. Willmar hosts Rochester again 7:05 p.m. today at Bill Taunton Stadium.

“It reminds me a lot of the first half right now,” Saberhagen said. “They’re having fun, they’re back into it.”

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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