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Stingers' season wrap: Record-setting season comes up short

Tribune photo by Tom Larson The Willmar Stingers stand for the National Anthem before Game 3 of the Northwoods League North Division playoffs against the Mankato MoonDogs on Wednesday at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar.

WILLMAR — It was a record-setting season for the Willmar Stingers.

Though the Stingers fell to the Mankato MoonDogs in the first round of the Northwoods League playoffs — an unfortunate repeat of their 2012 playoff run — Willmar set a franchise mark with 46 wins and the best record (46-26) in the North Division while breaking in new manager Drew Saberhagen and dealing with a near complete roster turnover from 2013.

Willmar lost 9-5 in Game 3 of the best-of-three North Division Champion Series on Wednesday.

Saberhagen said he’s hoping to come back in 2015 for another shot at a title.

“We had such a good group of guys, it’s pretty emotional,” he said after Wednesday’s loss. “I hope to get a lot of these guys back, myself included.”

He is not returning to USC-Upstate, where he spent last spring as an assistant, and said he needs to discuss his coaching future with his family before making any decisions.

“I’m jobless right now,” he said. “I’m a free agent. The Stingers have already offered the job for me to come back and I’ll do everything in my power to do that.”

In a change from years past, the Stingers had virtually no superstars on offense, trading a stacked middle of the order for a more balanced approach with above-average hitters at nearly every spot in the lineup.

NWL All-Star Nick Rivera led the team in most offensive categories including home runs (13), RBIs (54), slugging percentage (.532), on-base percentage (.397), hits (69), runs (41) and walks (37).

Reagan Fowler was the team-leader in batting average (.315) and doubles (17), while adding 67 hits and 32 RBIs, and Sean Beesley paced the team with 25 stolen bases, good for fourth in the NWL.

Beesley, batting out of the leadoff and No. 2 spots in the order most of the season, also knocked 67 hits and scored 34 runs and was safe on a straight steal of home in Game 3 on Wednesday.

Casey Hughston posted a .286 average with 31 RBIs, 12 steals, and Jack Ross was outstanding — despite not joining the team until mid-June — hitting .361 with 30 RBIs, 39 runs and 12 steals.

Other part-timers who stood out at the plate included Brett Barbier (.292 average, four homers, 20 RBIs, 12 steals), Hutton Moyer (.268 average, eight homers, 20 RBIs) and Dan Motl (.285 average, 31 runs, 17 steals).

The Stingers dealt with some early fluctuation in the starting rotation, as is always the case in a league with strict innings limits, but settled in to have five starters top the 50-inning mark: Andrew Towns (68), T.J. Whidby (58.2), Kurt Yinger (56.1), Matt Snyder (53.2) and Brady Anderson (53.2).

Towns finished with a 4-2 record, 3.57 ERA and a team-leading 55 strikeouts, earning an NWL All-Star selection.

Anderson also made the All-Star team with a 3.19 ERA, 32 strikeouts and five saves after a move to the bullpen late in the season. His brother, Garrett, tied him for the team lead with five saves of his own.

Matt Geislinger had a team-leading six wins, all out of the bullpen, and had a 2.37 ERA in 37 innings.

A.J. Puckett, who joined the team in mid-June, posted a 2.38 ERA in 45.1 innings and tossed a gem in Game 2 on Tuesday to give the Stingers their only win in the playoffs.

Saberhagen said it was hard to pick out season highlights, but mentioned Puckett’s Game 2 performance, Beesley’s steal of home and Moyer’s three-home run game — including a walkoff shot — on July 16 as contenders.

“You can go down the line with each and every guy,” Saberhagen said.

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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