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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WILLMAR -- The Willmar Stingers have an important piece in place for next season, announcing Monday that they have brought back Matt Hollod to manage the team in 2012. Hollod has managed the team since its inaugural 2010 season and has accumulated a 78-62 win-loss record with identical 39-31 finishes in 2010 and 2011. The Stingers finished in second place overall in 2010 and third place overall in 2011. "He wanted to come back and we wanted him back so it was a fairly easy process," Stingers co-owner Marc Jerzak said.
After a disappointing tournament exit last season, the Raymond Rockets start their hunt for the 2011 Minnesota Class C state tournament title today against the Brandon-Evansville Bluedogs. Raymond, the No. 2 seed in Class C Region 11 and the Bluedogs, the top seed in Region 16 will play their first-round game today at 7:30 p.m. in Brownton. The Rockets are coming off a tough defeat in last year's state tournament, where they lost the third-place game in extra innings to Howard Lake. Overall in last year's tournament, they played six games and won four of them.
Jake Stinnett, a native Californian pitching for the Stingers, had never experienced a tornado before. Luckily, his host family, Jamie and Amy Berskow, had prepared him. "Having lived in Willmar for a while, they knew what to do during huge thunderstorms and tornado watches, two things I had never seen before," Stinnett said. For Stingers players living in town for the 2½-month Northwoods League season, host families are invaluable for housing the players and helping them adjust to Willmar.
In a season with the Willmar Stingers contending down to the wire in the second half of the Northwoods League season, the catalyst atop the lineup has been outfielder Mitch Rowan. The Stinger leadoff hitter's .315 batting average is the third-highest on the team and he trails only Sean Dwyer and Jason Leblebijian in games played. His 21 stolen bases also ranks third in the league. But unlike other top players in the league, Rowan comes from humbler beginnings.
WILLMAR -- On throwback night on Friday at Bill Taunton Stadium, Willmar Stingers starting pitcher Scott Lieser had an old-fashioned dominating performance to beat the Mankato MoonDogs 3-1. The Stingers have won four in a row to increase their record to 17-12 and move into second place in the Northwoods League North Division, 4½ games behind the first-place Alexandria Beetles. The teams play a doubleheader today in Willmar starting at 1:05 p.m. With the Stingers in jerseys reminiscent of the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Lieser shut down the MoonDogs in one of his best starts of the season.
When Eduardo Gonzalez went 0-for-5 on Thursday, it dropped his batting average. To .342. It was only the eighth time the Willmar Stingers first baseman has gone hitless in a breakout 2011 Northwoods League season, during which he was selected a league All Star and has been among the league leaders in batting average. Gonzalez, a three-year starter at first base for Alcorn State in Mississippi, is in his second year with the Stingers. Gonzalez entered Friday's game with Mankato leading the North in hitting at .342.
WILLMAR -- Mankato reliever Stephen Rice couldn't find the plate and it led to another come-from-behind win for the Stingers, 6-4, over the MoonDogs Thursday at Bill Taunton Stadium. The Stingers have won three in a row to improve to 16-12, but they again failed to make ground on Northwood League North Division leader Alexandria, which defeated Rochester 7-3. Willmar remains 4.5 games back with 10 games left. With the game 3-3 in the eighth inning, the Stingers' Mitch Rowan led off with a single.