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NWL Baseball: Stingers tame Honker mashers

Willmar Stinger starter Joe Vranesic tosses a second inning pitch in Monday's game against Rochester. Jake Schultz / Tribune1 / 4
Willmar Stinger first baseman Danny Rodriguez flips a ground ball to the pitcher in Monday's game against Rochester. Jake Schultz / Tribune2 / 4
Willmar Stinger Luke Becker rounds third base and heads for home in Monday's game against Rochester. Jake Schultz / Tribune3 / 4
Willmar Stinger Danny Rodriguez swings in the first inning of Monday's game against Rochester. Jake Schultz / Tribune4 / 4

WILLMAR—The Rochester Honkers, mashers at the plate at home, have been a different animal on the road this season. Right-hander Joe Vranesic and the Willmar Stingers made sure that trend continued on Monday night.

Vranesic frustrated the Honkers over six two-run innings on the mound, Nolan Bumstead reached base four times while notching three RBIs and the Stingers extended their lead in the North division playoff race with a 7-4 win at Bill Taunton Stadium.

The Stingers extended their winning streak to a season-best five games and, with a 12-5 record, claimed sole possession of first place in the second half. Overall, Willmar is 30-23 on the season.

"It's just coming really easy at this point for the guys," Stingers manager Eric Vasquez said. "They know their roles. They know what to do in certain situations. They have a will to win and all support each other. We've developed a culture here, that everyone checks their ego at the door and you're seeing them play well."

The team's hot hitting over from a weekend sweep of La Crosse carried over in the first inning. Nolan Bumstead drove in Luke Becker with an RBI groundout and Danny Rodriguez plated Marcus Still on a single one batter later to jump ahead 2-0 against starter Michael Stryffeler.

Bumstead added to the lead in the third, once again scoring Becker and Still with an opposite-field double in the third.

"They were playing shallow in right, and we were actually waiting for Tyler Reichenborn to drive one out there," Vasquez said. "But Bumstead was late on a fastball but got the barrel and drove one that way. That's why he's so nice to have in that run-producing role."

Moved to the leadoff spot in the batting order before the game, Becker delivered by drawing four walks in five plate appearances. In 114 times up this season, Becker has walked 32 times and struck out just nine.

"It really makes me look smart for making that move to put him at the top, but really it's just Luke Becker doing what he does," Vasquez said. "That's why we just said, 'Why the heck not?' and put him at the top, and then he and Marcus [Still] both get on four times."

The Stingers led 4-0 after Bumstead's double, although that lead was not quite safe with the league's top-scoring offense on the other side, even given their struggles away from home.

Playing at hitter-friendly Mayo Field, the Honkers have scored over seven runs per game at their home confines, but have puzzlingly staggered to match that on the road, where they average just four runs.

The offensive drop-off can't just be explained by the difference between the run-conducive environment in Rochester and the rest of the league, as Honkers pitching has given up 6.3 runs per game on the road. Whatever the case is, the Stingers took advantage.

"You can go out there and attack their hitters differently when they're on the road," Vasquez said. "The ball won't quite fly as much, and you can get work in some different things to your advantage."

Rochester, now 7-16 on the road, fell 4-1/2 games behind the Stingers in the overall record race for the league's second Wild Card—although, if Willmar hangs on to the second half title that race will not matter.

Vranesic kept the Honkers at bay through 5-2/3 innings and was one strike away from escaping with another scoreless frame before surrendering a double to likely league MVP Zach Zubia with the bases empty. Rochester then put its next four men on base with three singles and a hit batter to cut the Stingers lead to 4-2.

Vranesic delivered another strong start, displaying an effective off-speed arsenal in the early innings while inducing plenty of weak contact. The Kent State product scattered six hits and two walks while striking out three batters.

Over his last three starts spanning 17-2/3 innings, Vranesic has allowed four runs and 20 base runners.

"The impressive thing tonight was him getting ahead, 0-2 and 1-2, in most counts," Vasquez said.

Harrison Schnurbusch created a run by himself in the sixth inning to provide some insurance for Willmar. Schnurbusch roped a single up the middle to lead off the frame against reliever Hunter Sullivan, stole second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch and came around to score on Caled Ledbetter's sacrifice fly.

Chris Ceballos drew the Honkers within one run with a two-out, two-run home run off of Calvin Coker in the eighth inning. It was the team's 60th homer of the season, which leads the league by a large margin.

The Stingers missed an opportunity to crack the game open in the seventh when they loaded the bases with nobody out, but failed to score. When another chance to tack on presented itself in the eighth, they took advantage with a Reichenborn RBI single and bases-loaded hit-by-pitch of Rodriguez to claim a 7-4 lead.

"Any chance you have a chance to add some insurance, you want it," Vasquez said. "We wanted that bottom half to come through with some runs and Harrison, Tyler came through.".

Coker rebounded in the ninth, working around a leadoff hit batter to record his fourth save.

The two teams will wrap up the series on Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m. in Willmar as the Stingers look to improve to 5-1 against the Honkers.

Willmar 7, Rochester 4

Honkers 000 002 020-4 8 3

Stingers 202 001 020-7 7 1

Hitting - Rochester: Zach Zubia 2-3 2b r bb-2, Chris Ceballos 1-3 hr r rbi-2, Michael Michalak 1-3 r rbi ... Willmar: Luke Becker 01- r-2 bb-4, Marcus Still 1-4 r-2, Nolan Bumstead 2-4 rbi-3, Danny Rodriguez 2-4 rbi-2, Harrison Schnurbusch 1-4 r sb, Tyler Reichenborn 1-4 rbi r

Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Rochester: Michael Stryffeler (L) 5-4-4-4-3-3, Hunter Sullivan 2-2-1-1-1-4, Ryan Dorney 0-0-1-1-1-0, Jacob Green 1-1-1-0-1-0 ... Willmar: Joe Vranesic (W) 6-6-2-2-1-3, Myles Smith 1-1-0-0-2-0, Calvin Coker (SV) 2-1-2-2-1-3

Curt Hogg

Curt Hogg is a sports reporter at the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016. 

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