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Northwoods League: Stingers lose but still hold lead

Tribune photo by Tom Larson Willmar Stingers' first baseman Corben Green takes a pickoff throw from pitcher Andrew Pulido but Mankato runner Audie Afenir was able to scramble safely back to first during the MoonDogs' 6-0 victory over the Stingers on Friday at Bill Taunton Stadium.

WILLMAR -- Working with a patched-together lineup, the Willmar Stingers fell to the Mankato MoonDogs 6-0 Friday at Bill Taunton Stadium and extended the race for a postseason spot into the final weekend of the Northwoods League second half.

The Stingers hung onto their half-game division lead in the North Division, as the second-place St. Cloud Rox lost to the Waterloo Bucks. With two games remaining in the regular season, the winner could come down to the final game. The Alexandria Beetles beat the Rochester Honkers to move into a tie with St. Cloud for second place.

Missing top-of-the-order hitters Forrestt Allday and Mitch Rowan, the Stingers fell flat against the MoonDogs, leaving 10 men on base and striking out 16 times.

The clutch hitting has dried up for the Stingers -- in the past three games, they have stranded 35 runners.

"We're not coming through in key moments," Stingers' manager Matt Hollod said. "We have guys who have left multiple guys on base in multiple at bats. Guys aren't coming through and being clutch when we need them."

Mankato took an early lead against Willmar starting pitcher Andrew Pulido when J.M. Twichell hit a two-run home run to right-centerfield in the first inning. The MoonDogs added two more in the third on a Danny Murphy solo home run and an RBI-sacrifice fly off the bat of Chase Simpson.

Insurance runs in the sixth and seventh innings put the game away.

Pulido completed 7-2/3 innings, allowing all six runs and striking out seven.

Trevor Belicek earned the win for the MoonDogs with two innings of scoreless relief.

The Stingers were also dealt a big blow with the loss of Rowan, who injured his foot after fouling a ball off it in Thursday's game.

Hollod said Rowan is more than likely done for the season as is Allday, though Allday could possibly play as the designated hitter.

The Stingers are down to 10 healthy position players including two-way player Andre Wheeler who was Friday's designated hitter. Infielder Zach Benson also started in right field.

"You've got to find the guys who can play," Hollod said. "The guys who have played a position before you put them out there. It sucks but we've got to deal with it."

The Stingers are getting some roster help today in the form of St. Cloud State third baseman Karl Sorensen. Sorensen started the season with the Stingers on a temporary contract, so he would be playoff-eligible should Willmar win the division.

The hits will keep coming on Monday, when the Stingers will lose several more pitchers who are returning to school.

"If we make the playoffs, the second or third day into it we're going to have like six pitchers," Hollod said.

With all the roster difficulty, Hollod said the Stingers still have a chance at a postseason spot.

"I'm 100 percent confident in Scott Lieser who's going (today) for us," Hollod said. "The guys that want to be here, the guys that want to compete, are the guys who are going to win it for us and be in the lineup.

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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