WILLMAR - If the last few weeks in the North Division standings were any indication, no lead would be safe for Willmar and Mankato.
The regular season saw the Stingers come out on top of a three-team race to the division's second-half title. And in Monday's Northwoods League playoff game at Bill Taunton Stadium, Mankato saw a five-run lead evaporate in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Willmar has proven to be a tough out all summer. And Monday was no exception as John Trousdale hit a game-winning, two-out RBI single in the 10th inning for an 8-7 victory.
The hottest team in the North Division with seven straight wins to end the regular season, the MoonDogs' power was on display early. Kyle MacDonald led off the top of the second with a solo home run. Then in the third, Mankato took a 4-0 lead on a three-run bomb from Jake Shepski. The MoonDogs' next three runs stayed within the grounds but were equally effective as Garrett Mitchell hit an RBI single, followed by a two-run double from Shepski that put Mankato ahead 7-2.
But, Willmar kept plugging away. Able to squeak the ball by the infield, the Stingers managed to load the bases, setting Eli Wilson up for a sacrifice fly that scored Matt Rudick, followed by a John Trousdale RBI single.
Down 7-2 in the bottom of the fifth, Willmar's rally began with its own display of power as with a Nic Hernandez solo home run. Tyler Reichenborn hit a grounder up the middle for an RBI single, and Shea Kramer followed that with a sacrifice fly. With two outs and with the number nine batter in the box, Eric Yang got a grounder through the left side of the infield for another run. Rudick completed the comeback with a laser to the right-field gap to tie the game at 7-7.
After tough showings from starting pitcher Louie Varland and Dylan Oliver, the Stingers' relievers kept that tied score intact as Nick Mears struck out nine over three scoreless innings, followed by 2-2/3 innings of scoreless relief from Ben Mora.
Unable to capitalize on getting a runner in scoring position in the ninth, Willmar got another golden opportunity after Rudick led the 10th off with a single. Reaching second on a Joey Ortiz walk, Rudick could only watch as Davis Elliot struck out and Eli Wilson flew out to right field.
Trousdale, who finished 4-for-5, delivered his biggest base knock of the game by sending the ball to right field, bringing Rudick home to extend the season.
With the win, Willmar will stay at home Tuesday to face Duluth with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m. The Huskies advanced thanks to a 13-5 victory against Bismarck on Monday. The winner will advance to the Northwoods League best-of-three championship series.
In the South Division bracket, Kalamazoo defeated Kenosha 5-3, and Fond du Lac advanced with a 17-5 win against Madison. The two teams will play at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Willmar 8, Mankato 7
Mankato 013 030 000 0-7 11 0
Willmar 002 050 000 1-8 17 1
Hitting - Mankato: Nick Novak 2-4 r-2, Austin Bull 1-5 r, Garrett Mitchell 4-5 r-2 rbi, Jake Shepski 2-5 hr 2b r rbi-5, Kyle MacDonald 1-4 hr r rbi, CJ Huntley 1-5 ... Willmar: Matt Rudick 4-6 2b r-2 rbi, Joey Ortiz 2-5 r, Nic Hernandez 3-5 hr r rbi, Eli Wilson 1-4 2b r rbi, John Trousdale 4-5 r rbi-2, Tyler Reichenborn 2-5 2b r rbi, Shea Kramer 0-3 rbi, Eric Yang 1-4 r rbi.
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Mankato: Geremy Guerrero 3-6-2-2-1-1, Jimmy Larson 1.2-5-4-4-1-0, Brandon Pfaadt 2.1-2-0-0-1-4, Zach Hardy (L) 2.2-4-1-1-2-4 ... Willmar: Louie Varland 2.1-4-4-4-2-3, Dylan Oliver 1.2-4-3-3-0-0, Nick Mears 3-3-0-0-0-9, Ben Mora 2.2-0-0-0-0-3, Jayson Newman (W) 0.1-0-0-0-0-0.