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Stingers’ bats come alive

Tribune photo by Tom Larson Willmar second baseman Jake Gronsky, left, takes a throw from catcher Kyle Perry and drops the tag on Waterloo runner Connor McClain, who was stealing, for the second out of the first inning on Wednesday at Bill Taunton Stadium.

WILLMAR — To have a shot at a Northwoods League title, the Willmar Stingers will eventually have to get past the Waterloo Bucks.

They came into Wednesday’s game 0-4 this year against the first-half champions, but were able to break the streak with a 14-7 win over the Bucks at Bill Taunton Stadium.

Starting pitcher Nick Bates gave the Stingers a lift in his first start since June 22, holding the high-powered Waterloo offense to three runs and striking out four over five innings.

Bates said he planned to get the Bucks’ hitters into early two-strike counts.

“My game plan was get ahead, so that I can work a couple different pitches in there with two strikes,” he said. “It really didn’t work out…it was so hot I kept sweating and I really didn’t have my curveball.”

When the curveball wasn’t working, Bates said he went to a fastball-cutter combination.

“That’s what got me by is my cutter,” he said.

The Stinger offense gave Bates plenty of support, jumping on Waterloo starter Grant Borne for 10 runs and knocking him out of the game with one out in the third. 

No. 3 hitter Zack Tillery dealt the first blow with a two-run double in the first, and drove in another run in the fifth with a single.

Kyle Perry cleared the bases in the second with a single that got past Bucks’ right fielder Will Sparks, and Michael Suchy hit a two-run homer to dead-center in the third to chase Borne.

Bates gave up seven hits but was able to wriggle out of trouble in the second when he struck out Jake Riffice with the bases loaded to end the inning. He also ended a threat in the third when he snared a sharp grounder off the bat of Marcos Calderon to start a 1-4-3 double play.

“That was reflexes,” Bates said. “I knew to throw it to second right away, but I had to throw it quickly.”

The Bucks broke through in the fourth when Sparks chopped a high grounder over the head of a leaping Max Kuhn at third base. Kevin Needham walked, and Connor McClain drove a two-run double over the head of Willmar center fielder Logan Moon.

“Their two-strike approach is the best,” Bates said. “Even when I did get ahead (in the count), they’re good with two strikes and they’re always putting the ball in play.”

Willmar kept on hitting, though, adding two more in the fifth and two in the seventh.

They finished with 21 hits, including a 5-for-5 night from Kyle Perry, and three-hit performances from Suchy, Tillery, Jake Gronsky and Max Dutto.

The Stingers improved to 6-7 in the Northwoods League North Division. Willmar is 29-19 overall and still in the hunt for a postseason spot. They play 6:35 p.m. today at Waterloo, one of their five remaining games against the Bucks.

Notes: Stingers’ manager Matt Hollod is in the middle of a seven-game suspension due to a pitch count violation on June 30 when Max Homick went three pitches over the limit; Today will be his fourth game out … St. Cloud’s Eric Nyquist has replaced Willmar ace Abe Bobb on the Northwoods League All-Star team. Bobb was chosen for the July 23 game but is unable to participate due to his innings limit. … The Stingers will also send Marc Flores, Michael Suchy and Colin Poche to the game … The signing deadline for the 2013 MLB draft passed on Friday; Homick, drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 32nd round, pitched 21 innings for Willmar before signing last week. He was the 13th of the 15 current and former Stingers who were drafted this year. Josh Matheson (Milwaukee Brewers, 19th round) and Jake Stinnett (Pittsburgh Pirates, 29th round) were the only ones not to sign. … The Stingers added righthander Jack Hegarty out of Bemidji State to help fill out the pitching staff after the losses of Bobb and Homick.

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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