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Stingers nearly catch Border Cats, but fall 13-11

THUNDER BAY, Ont. — After getting a 12-2 lead through six innings, it looked as if Thunder Bay would cruise to victory. However, Willmar drove in eight runs in the seventh and another in the eighth to bring the game within a run.

But the Border Cats would return the favor with a run in the eighth and finished with a scoreless ninth, sealing a wild 13-11 win Sunday to complete a two-game sweep.

The Border Cats also claimed a 7-4 win Saturday over the Stingers, who now have lost three straight after opening the season 2-0.

Sunday’s slow start for Willmar was aided by Border Cats starter Clint Knoblauch retiring the first seven batters he faced. Tyler Leffler and Steven Brault singled in the third for Willmar before Knoblauch got Jake Gronsky to fly out.

Thunder Bay, meanwhile, had produced four runs in the first two innings. Nick Halamandaris doubled and a Thunder Bay error keyed the Stingers to score two runs in the fourth.

At the end of five, Thunder Bay (2-3) led 12-2 and it seemed as though the game was already over. But the Stingers posted eight runs in the seventh to make a game of it.

The inning began with a Karl Sorensen walk, Brault’s single and a groundout by Gronsky that plated Sorensen. Then four consecutive Stingers reached base safely beginning with an RBI double by Marc Flores. After Max Kuhn was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, Leffler atoned for a pair of errors with a two-run single to left that cut the Thunder Bay lead to five runs. After Sorensen’s second at-bat of the inning led to a walk that loaded the bases once more, Brault blasted a ball past first base into the corner in right to plate two more runs. Thirteen Stingers came up to the plate in the frame.

Kuhn then doubled in Max Dutto in the eighth to get Willmar within one.

Willmar remains on the road to face Rochester today and Tuesday with both games starting at 7:05 p.m.

Saturday’s Game

Willmar’s Steven Brault hit his first home run of the season, Zack Tillery collected four hits and JD Dorgan plated two runs with a double in the fourth, but Thunder Bay erased a 4-0 deficit to win 7-4.

The conditions were not ideal, but Willmar bounced back offensively after a down night Friday.

Willmar jumped out to a hot start, beginning with the Brault home run in the third. The solo shot to right-center field could have been good for two had Kyle Perry not been caught stealing on a well-timed pitch out.

In the fourth, the Stingers scored three runs, including an RBI single for Jake Gronsky. It was Gronsky’s first hit of the season and it was soon followed by another later in the game. There were hits a plenty for Willmar, in fact, the 14 hits marked a new season high.

The hot hitting of the Stingers, however, was matched by the Border Cats. Thunder Bay notched more than a dozen hits and scored all of its runs in the fifth inning or later. The two teams combined for more than 35 base runners.

Pitching was not as sharp as it had been, but the Stingers would have been hard-pressed to maintain the 0.67 ERA they brought into the game. Michael Murray made his debut for Willmar and pitched well until he ran into trouble in the fifth. Murray recorded six strikeouts while the other two Stinger pitchers, Andrew Crook and Joe Kirkland each recorded two.

Tillery finished 4-for-5 and improved his average after two games to .444.

— Information from the Willmar Stingers was used in this report