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Stingers rally past Cats on walk-off sacrifice fly

Tribune photo by Tom Larson Thunder Bay’s Dylan Becker, right, winces as his right leg buckles during a steal of second in the third inning of the Border Cats’ game against the Willmar Stingers on Wednesday at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. Stingers’ shortstop Max Dutto, middle, tries unsuccessfully to get an out call from the base umpire.

WILLMAR — With the bases loaded and a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, Steven Brault lofted a fly ball to the right fielder to score Max Dutto from third base and give the Willmar Stingers their third straight win, 4-3, over the Thunder Bay Border Cats on Wednesday at Bill Taunton Stadium.

Zack Tillery pitched three dominant innings, striking out five of the eight batters he faced to pick up the win in relief of starter Chris Kubitz.

It was a turnaround for Tillery, who suffered the loss on Sunday, when he lasted just one inning and allowed three runs at Thunder Bay.

“Tillery was a completely different pitcher than he was on Sunday,” Stingers’ manager Matt Hollod said. “His fastball was down in the zone, he was competing very well tonight.”

Aside from a rough third inning by Kubitz, in which he allowed three runs, the Willmar pitching kept the Stingers in the game despite a slow start by the offense.

Kubitz pitched through two innings unscathed before Thunder Bay catcher Dylan Goodwin doubled to deep left field leading off the third. After a strikeout, Cory Kay hit a ground ball to Dutto at short, who threw to third baseman Max Kuhn to try and catch the advancing Goodwin. The throw beat Goodwin to the bag and Kuhn appeared to apply the tag, but Goodwin was called safe. 

“Kubitz was really good,” Hollod said. “The one missed call, I think it got him out of his rhythm, out of his game. He finished the fourth, fifth and sixth, it was just that one little hiccup.”

An infield hit, a walk and a hit batter brought in two runs, and Thunder Bay’s Michael Foster made it 3-0 when he scampered home on a straight steal past the tag of catcher Chris Barnett.

Dutto started the Willmar rally in the bottom of the ninth with a bloop single that fell between the Thunder Bay shortstop and center fielder. Barnett and Danny Brennan walked to load the bases and bring up Brault who hit a shallow popup to right. Dutto, now on third, came home with the winning run when the throw sailed away from the catcher.

“That was a very shallow ball,” Hollod said. “The perfect way to do that is run hard halfway and watch the ball. Max was running hard to draw a throw, and it was so high he just kept going.”

The Stingers scraped a run across in the fourth on a Kuhn RBI single. They scored again in the seventh on a wild pitch to score Dutto from third and a Brault RBI double to drive in Brennan and tie the game 3-3.

Brault finished 1-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, and Michael Suchy was 2-for-3 with a double.

The Stingers improved to 5-3 and are in second place in the Northwoods League North Division. They play Thunder Bay again 7:05 p.m. today in Willmar.

Notes: Stingers’ pitcher Josh Matheson, who will join the team this week, and Minnesota State-Mankato fell in the title game of the Division II College World Series over the weekend … 2012 Stinger Jon Flinn has signed with the Evansville (Ind.) Otters of the independent Frontier League.