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NWL Baseball: Mankato too much for Stingers

Tribune photo by Tom Larson Willmar right fielder Jack Ross lays out to snare a fly ball off the bat of Mankato’s Levi Scott in the first inning of the Stingers’ Northwood League North Division playoff game Wednesday in Willmar. Scott got an RBI on the play, though, as teammate Tyler Sullivan tagged at third and scored. Willmar second baseman Brian Pruett, left, also chased the fly ball

WILLMAR — Successful baseball seasons never quite seem as such when they end abuptly in the playoffs.

The Willmar Stingers posted the second-best overall record in the Northwoods League in 2014 and earned the franchise’s second playoff berth in its four-year existence.

And yet the Stingers’ season concluded somberly with a 9-5 loss to the Mankato MoonDogs in the third and deciding game of the NWL’s North Division playoffs on Wednesday night at Bill Taunton Stadium.

The Stingers fell behind 7-0 after four innings and didn’t manage their first hit off MoonDogs starter Mitchell Traver until the fifth.

The Stingers rallied for five runs in the fifth and sixth innings but could only get within three.

Mankato, meanwhile, pounded 16 hits off four Stingers pitchers, none of whom had any luck keeping the MoonDogs off the base paths.

“The guys kept fighting,” said Stingers manager Drew Saberhagen. “Just one of those nights where they were swinging the bat. Defense was a bit of a struggle at times. It just sucked that we didn’t play well. They just had our number. Extremely frustrating because I thought we were a much better team than we showed the last three days. But tip your hat to them, yhey did a good job and came out ready to play.”

The Stingers finished the 2014 regular season 46-26, behind only South Division champion Lakeshore (50-21).

Lakeshore will play a three-game series against the MoonDogs for the NWL championship beginning today.

As happened Tuesday in Willmar’s victory to force Game 3, miscues cost them as soon as the game started.

Mankato’s Tyler Sullivan led off with a single and Brett Synek hit a bouncer to shortstop Max Dutto, a very makeable double play ball. But Dutto couldn’t come up with the ball and both runners were safe.

The MoonDogs’ Levi Scott later lifted a sacrifice fly to right field to spot Mankato a 1-0 lead.

In the fourth, Mankato’s Tanner Rockwell was hit by a pitch from Willmar starter Kurt Yinger. Scott then doubled to score Rockwell, Eric Schenk-Joblinski and Craig Lepre singled, scoring Scott.

Brent Zimmerman grounded out to score Schenk-Joblinske and Patrick Massoni singled in Lepre. The four-run inning put the MoonDogs up 5-0.

Mankato tacked on two more runsin the fourth inning to bump the lead to seven runs.

Yinger and reliever Andrew Towns surrendered seven runs on 11 hits in 5.2 innings.

The Stingers rallied with three runs in the sixth inning and two more in the seventh, but the MoonDogs never let them get back into the game.

The Stingers did produce a few highlights on an otherwise dusultory night. Sean Beesley was safe on a straight steal of home and he had two hits and drove in a run.

Reagan Fowler had two hits in four trips and scored a run, Brian Pruett also was 2-for-4, drove in a run and scored once, and Nick Rivera capped his All-Star season with a hit and an RBI.

The ending aside, Saberhagen said the best of the season will bubble to the surface in the players’ minds soon.

“The brotherhood these guys had (stands out),” Saberhagen said. “Just the way they played. They did a lot of great things this summer. It was so fun to be around these guys at the ballpark each and every game.”