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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When the Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa boys basketball team lost to Springfield in the final game of the Class A state tournament, it was the Jaguars' first loss of the 2010-11 season. They are looking to do one better this time around. The Jaguars are currently undefeated -- 2-0 and first place in the Central Minnesota Conference and 9-0 overall -- and ranked No. 1 in Class A. And they haven't just been winning -- they have been pummeling opponents. They've scored over 70 points six times and over 80 twice, including a 74-28 win over Paynesville on Dec.
WILLMAR -- The 2012 Willmar Stingers roster is beginning to take shape. On Wednesday they added four new players to push the roster to 16. Joining the Stingers are sophomore infielder Hunter Dozier and junior infielder Zach Benson from Stephen F. Austin, along with freshman utility man Brady Anderson and freshman outfielder/first baseman Michael Suchy from Florida Gulf Coast. Dozier is the most accomplished of the group, having started at shortstop for the Lumberjacks last season as a freshman.
WILLMAR -- The Willmar Stingers season opener is still 7½ months away but they have already begun constructing their roster for the 2012 season. The team announced Wednesday that eight players from the 2011 team that finished 39-31 will be returning for 2012. The returning players are: Outfielders Pat Stover and Mitch Rowan, and pitchers Scott Lieser, Ben Burns, Kody Gorden, Tanner Banks, Thomas Taylor and Josh Hoekstra. With the return of Stover and Rowan, the Stingers bring back two of their major offensive producers from 2011.
WILLMAR -- Willmar Stingers outfielder Pat Stover has received the Northwoods League Rawlings Big Stick Award for 2011, which goes to the player with the highest batting average in the league at each position. Stover's .337 mark was sixth-highest in the Northwoods League and the best on the team, just ahead of Mitch Rowan (.333) and Eduardo Gonzalez (.323). He is the second Stinger to win the award. Jordan Smith won it in 2010 with a .374 batting average as an outfielder.
MONTEVIDEO -- What a difference a year makes. At this time last season, the Montevideo ThunderHawks had a 2-2 record and had scored 74 points in four games. Those two wins turned out to be the only ones they would get the whole year as they finished 2-7. They scored a total of 170 points. The ThunderHawks go into Friday's game at Minnewaska with a 4-0 record. They're coming off a wild 56-49 win at Albany last week when they scored 28 points in the fourth quarter to come from behind and knock off the Huskies, who entered the game ranked No. 2 in Class AAA.
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.