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Stingers fall to Mankato in opening game of playoffs

MANKATO — Three errors proved too costly for the Willmar Stingers Monday as the Mankato MoonDogs took the opening game of the Northwoods League North Division Championship Series 7-4 at Franklin Rogers Park.

The series now shifts to Willmar for at least one game, possibly two if the first-half champion Stingers can win Game 2 of the best-of-three series today. Mankato leads the season series 7-2.

The Stingers struck first by getting back-to-back two-out doubles from Reagan Fowler and Nick Rivera, and an RBI single from Jack Ross in the first inning. But the second-half champion MoonDogs put up three runs in the bottom half of the frame.

The first three batters reached and eventually scored on an outfield error, a groundout and a sacrifice fly. The Stingers would tie the game on a solo home run from Rivera — with two outs — in the third, but again Mankato would answer in the bottom half of the inning to regain the lead.

The slim lead would hold up for the next three innings before Fowler knocked in Sean Beesley with another two-out double in the seventh. But once again the Stingers would allow Mankato to go back in front in the home half of the inning. This time around Mankato put together a two-out rally of its own.

Will Lydon came in to relieve Stingers starter Phoenix Sanders and the right-hander from California proceeded to induce two groundouts. Tyler Sullivan, batting leadoff for the MoonDogs, then worked a six-pitch walk and moved up to second on a fielder’s choice, which also allowed Brett Synek to reach and keep the inning alive.

Two more errors in the outfield followed and put Mankato ahead 5-4. The home team later got some insurance in the inning on Tanner Rockwell’s two-run single.

Willmar loaded the bases in the eighth, but Mankato reliever Tyler Mark notched a strikeout and sent the Stingers down 1-2-3 in the ninth to preserve the win and collect a save.

Despite giving up an RBI double in the seventh and loading the bases in the eighth, Rockwell picked up the win. Rockwell started the game at third base, went 2-for-4 and knocked in four runs.

Sanders labored through six innings, throwing 94 pitches and surrendering six hits and three earned runs while walking two and notching two strikeouts. Lydon was hit with the loss.

The Stingers outhit Mankato 11-9, but the visitors also stranded nine base runners and struck out 11 times. Besides Rivera and Fowler, Brett Barbier and Frankie Rios also had a pair of hits for Willmar.

Jesse Fuchs
I have been with the Tribune since the summer of 1998. I enjoy covering the high school aspect of the business and designing pages.
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