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Lieser strikes out team-record 10 in 3-1 Stingers' win over Mankato

(Tribune photo by Rand Middleton) The Stingers went retro Friday, sparking memories of the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates. Garrett Borba, right, extends to high-five Willmar teammate Blake Shepherd at pre-game introductions. Also introduced were members of the Willmar Wild 5th-6th grade fast-pitch softball team.

WILLMAR -- On throwback night on Friday at Bill Taunton Stadium, Willmar Stingers starting pitcher Scott Lieser had an old-fashioned dominating performance to beat the Mankato MoonDogs 3-1.

The Stingers have won four in a row to increase their record to 17-12 and move into second place in the Northwoods League North Division, 4½ games behind the first-place Alexandria Beetles.

The teams play a doubleheader today in Willmar starting at 1:05 p.m.

With the Stingers in jerseys reminiscent of the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Lieser shut down the MoonDogs in one of his best starts of the season. The Willmar right-hander out of St. Cloud State went 7Xc innings and struck out a team-record 10, giving up five hits and one run.

Stingers manager Matt Hollod was impressed with the outing and said the performance was especially important to save the pitching staff.

"That's got to be the best outing I remember for this season," Hollod said. "It was a huge outing because we're a little bit light in the bullpen."

Lieser has had an up-and-down season, but he said this was one of his best.

"It was probably one of my better outings in the Northwoods League," he said. "I had a shaky one last weekend in Alexandria but really bounced back."

The previous single-game strikeout record for a Stingers pitcher was nine, set by Charlie Olsen on June 17, 2010, against Rochester.

The Stingers pushed across a run in the third inning when No. 9 hitter Garrett Borba hit a groundball to third base, and reached second on a throwing error by Mankato third baseman Nick Judkins. Mitch Rowan advanced him to third with a sharp single, and Jason Leblebijian followed with an RBI fielder's choice to score Borba.

The game remained a 1-0 pitchers' duel, with Mankato starter Jeff Rohrbach matching zeroes with Lieser, until the sixth inning.

Willmar's Eduardo Gonzalez led off the inning with a double and scored on an RBI single from Sean Dwyer to give the Stingers a 2-0 lead. They added one more in the seventh and that was all the pitching staff would need.

Mankato, with a strong lineup featuring Northwoods League home run leader Shaun Cooper, was held to the one run by Lieser and reliever Ricky Knapp.

Lieser shut down the MoonDogs until Mankato first baseman Zak Wasserman singled with one out in the eighth inning. He advanced to third base on a fielder's choice from Chris Ross and a Josh Dahl single. Judkins hit an infield single to push Wasserman home for Mankato's only run.

Knapp came in to strike out Cooper with the bases loaded and kill the MoonDog rally.

"The seventh was a little shaky," Lieser said. "That's what pitching is all about, is how to get out of a big inning."

Alexandria beat Rochester 10-5 in 10 innings Friday to keep its division lead, but Hollod was optimistic about Willmar's chances.

"If we keep taking care of business ... I have a feeling we're going to be within a couple games (next week)," he said.

Notes: Mankato catcher Whitt Dorsey had to leave the game in the fourth inning with a leg injury. ... Willmar's Mitch Delfino was ejected in the fourth inning for arguing a strike three call. He was replaced by Jake Stinnett.

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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