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First-place Stingers knock off La Crosse

Willmar shortstop Max Dutto barehands a ground ball by La Crosse’s Jerrod Bravo in the second inning Wednesday at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. Bravo beat out the throw for an infield single and later scored the Loggers’ first run. Tribune photo by Ben Brewster

WILLMAR — Baseball is a game of inches.

That was no truer than Wednesday night when Jack Ross laced a two-out, two-run double that hit the left-field foul line, and the Willmar Stingers beat the La Crosse Loggers 3-2 at Bill Taunton Stadium.

The fourth-inning two-base hit — coming on an 0-2 count against Loggers’ starter Adam Cline — gave the Stingers a 3-1 lead that held up the rest of the way.

“I was trying to stay patient and get my pitch, down two strikes and I just saw something up in the zone and tried to drive it the other way.” Ross said. “I was looking at it about halfway down the baseline and then I decided I better start running.”

Nick Rivera started the rally with a one-out walk, before being erased on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Casey Hughston.

Brett Barbier followed with a walk, and Ross drove him and Hughston in to break a 1-1 tie.

“The double was literally on the foul line,” Stingers’ manager Drew Saberhagen said. “He falls behind 0-2 and just has a professional at-bat. He did a good job of going the other way and drove in two.”

It was Ross’ second clutch hit in two days against the Loggers, giving Willmar a win over La Crosse on Tuesday with a sixth-inning, two-run single.

Ross, who has only been with the Stingers since June 17 due to Pepperdine’s College World Series run, said it was nice to come up in the clutch after a tough freshman year with the Waves.

“I struggled in my college season,” he said. “I was really amped to get after it here and it feels good to get a couple of big hits.”

The game was a possible playoff preview, with the Northwoods League North Division-leading Stingers squaring off with the Loggers, who came into the game tied for first in the South Division with the Lakeshore Chinooks.

Matt Snyder started and picked up the win, going five innings and striking out three. He gave up a run in the second on a sacrifice fly and another in the fifth on an error.

“Snyder hasn’t had his best stuff yet,” Saberhagen said. “He just battled for us. Five innings and two runs, you’ll take it from your starting pitcher. He has some things to fine-tune, but he’s got electric stuff. I’m looking forward to him getting better as the summer goes along.”

Will Lydon pitched three scoreless innings of relief, and Josh Matheson finished the ninth for his first save.

The Stingers also scored in the first on Sean Beesley’s RBI groundout to score Brian Pruett, who had singled and took third on an errant pickoff attempt by Cline.

Willmar improved to 19-6 in the North Division and leads Waterloo by 1.5 games with five games remaining in the first half.

Saberhagen said he was impressed by the Stingers’ resilience after two extra-inning games in Rochester earlier this week and being rained out of five home games the past two weeks.

“When you go out on the road and play 28 innings in two days, get back at 4:30 in the morning and come out and win two games against first-place team on the other side, that shows a lot about the character on this ball club,” Saberhagen said.

Notes: The Stinger made several roster moves in the two weeks between home games: Pitcher Hayden Cleveland left the team and was replaced by MSU-Mankato’s Matt Geislinger … Pitcher Sheldon Lee was shut down with an injury and will be replaced by Loyola Marymount’s Tyler Cohen on July 8 … Utility man Alex Borglin was released from his temp contract and picked up by the South Division’s Kenosha Kingfish … Catcher David Parrett was released from his temp contract and replaced by Brett Barbier … Temp players Austin Klein, Dan Motl and Josh Matheson were made full-time.

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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