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Willmar Stingers set for 2012 opener

Tribune photo by Ben Brewster Willmar Stingers manager Matt Hollod, third from left, addresses the team during practice Monday.1 / 3
Willmar Stingers players take batting practice during their first practice Monday at Baker Field Orange in Willmar. The Stingers will open their third season 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar.2 / 3
Tribune photo by Ben Brewster Willmar's Steven Brault goes through a new box of bats during the Stingers' practice Monday.3 / 3

WILLMAR -- After a long offseason, it's finally time to play ball.

The Willmar Stingers will open the 2012 season 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bill Taunton Stadium against the Mankato MoonDogs.

The Stingers, entering their third season in the Northwoods League, will try to get over the hump in 2012 after finishing with identical 39-31 records in their first two seasons.

They finished in third place overall in 2011 in the Northwoods League North Division and second place overall in 2010.

Field manager Matt Hollod will return for his third season in Willmar as will pitching coach Tyler Shepple.

Steve Sanchez, an assistant coach at San Diego Mesa, is a new addition as the team's hitting and infield coach, replacing Brandon Cohen.

The Stingers will be a mixture of old and new, with familiar faces Mitch Rowan, Scott Lieser, Josh Hoekstra, Kody Gorden, Michael Shreves, Anthony Consiglio and Pat Stover returning for second seasons in Willmar, though Stover is a longshot to play as he is likely to be selected in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft on June 4.

Lieser and Rowan could also get drafted, as well as newcomers Dillon Haupt, George Asmus, and Stephen Talbott.

"One of our strengths is that we have an older class of players," Stingers' co-owner Ryan Voz said. "We run the risk of bringing in more juniors because of the draft. We got a lot of players that have been impact guys at their college this past spring."

Some top producers from 2011 have moved on, such as Eduardo Gonzalez, Jason Leblebijian and Sean Dwyer, but they have been replaced with potential top- and middle-of-the-order hitters in Haupt, Hunter Dozier and Forrestt Allday.

If Rowan doesn't go pro, he should also provide some pop for the Stingers.

In his redshirt junior year in 2012 with Willamette University, Rowan led the team in most offensive categories with a .342 average, .503 on-base percentage and .719 slugging percentage. He hit 10 home runs and drove in 40, and the performance gained him a spot on's Second Team All-West Region. For Willmar last season, Rowan was second on the team with a .333 batting average and 75 hits.

Allday, a junior who will start in the outfield for Willmar, played right field and batted second for Central Arkansas this spring. He was named to the All-Southland Conference second team after a standout year in his first season of Division I ball after transferring from Alvin (Texas) Community College.

He showed limited power, hitting just one home run and slugging .426, but he drew a conference-leading 57 walks for a sparkling .486 on-base percentage while batting .324.

Dozier was the best hitter on a Stephen F. Austin team that challenged for the Southland Conference title, coming up just short of the championship game. He led the team in batting average (.357), home runs (10), on-base percentage (.431) and slugging percentage (.595). His .357 average was good for fifth in the conference and his 10 home runs were tied for second. He led the circuit with 22 doubles.

"We've got a lot of talented guys coming in at key positions," Stingers' manager Matt Hollod said. "We've got some good arms, we've got some power and some speed. If we got the right mix, it's my job over the next couple weeks to find the right position for these guys to perform at their best."

With much of the roster still playing conference tournaments with their college teams, the Stingers' opening day roster will be shorthanded.

They have nine position players for opening day, but Hollod said he doesn't know who will play where yet.

To make matters worse, first baseman Brooks Beisner hurt his wrist in practice Monday and may not be able to play.

Greg Fettes will likely catch, with Logan Allen, Kenny Roberts and Brady Anderson available in the infield.

Rowan, Allday, Michael Suchy and Steven Brault will see time in the outfield, as could Andre Wheeler, who was signed as a pitcher but has played outfield in the past and takes batting practice every day.

Of the players still missing, Talbott and his Purdue teammates won the Big Ten championship and gained a berth in the College World Series, and Haupt and San Diego could receive an at-large bid.

Also still in NCAA playoffs are La.-Monroe's Corben Green and Creighton's Mark Lukowski.

Pitchers Richie Navari (Scottsdale CC) and Anthony Consiglio (Western Nevada) are still with their teams in the NJCAA World Series, and Washington's Asmus and Matt Jackson will be absent as they won't be done with their course finals until June 9.

Dozier and Stephen F. Austin teammate Zach Benson will not join the Stingers until early June.

On the pitching side, Hollod said the starting rotation will become clear after the season starts.

Workloads depend on how much they threw in the spring and what their schools want them to do during the summer.

Lieser figures to get a lot of innings. Jacob Cage could also see some starts, as could Asmus, Michael Wills and Kyle Fischer.

In a late move, Kansas' Thomas Taylor was dropped from the roster after he threw 140 pitches in his last outing for the Jayhawks. His spot has not been filled yet.

Twenty-eight new faces in all have joined the Stingers.

"As it looks now I think we'll have a good year," Voz said. "Once these guys get here and we see how they jell together we'll see what kind of summer it's going to be. On paper it seems we've got better talent and experience than past years, but it comes down to pitching and staying healthy."

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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