Northwoods League: Breaking down the playoffs
The Stingers will make their first appearance in the playoffs since 2019
WILLMAR — Winners in 28 of their last 35 games, the Willmar Stingers are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2019.
Willmar, holding a 44-19 overall record this season, officially clinched a berth into the Northwoods League playoffs Saturday evening with a 7-5 win over the Duluth Huskies.
The upcoming playoffs appearance marks the Stingers' eighth postseason appearance in 12 opportunities, as 2020 did not have playoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"No matter what happens this postseason, this was a successful summer," Stingers co-owner Ryan Voz said. "Obviously we think this team has the potential to move on beyond the first round, but anything can happen."
As postseason play begins Sunday, the Northwoods League playoffs comes with the format introduced in 2019 with a slight adjustment made in 2021.
The format will include eight teams — the first and second half sub-divisional winners of each division make it. If the same team wins both halves in its respective sub-division, the team with the highest overall winning percentage in the sub-division will make the playoffs.
Before the 2019 format, the top two-sub divisional teams would compete in a single elimination game followed by single elimination games for the divisional championships and a best of three series for the summer collegiate world series.
Currently, the top two sub-divisional teams will compete in a best-of-three series, followed by one game divisional championships and a standalone game for the summer collegiate world series.
"We flipped it because we felt like we needed to get the best team out of the first round," said Voz, who is also the President/Commissioner of the Northwoods League. "If you do single elimination, you don't really know who's the better team."
Voz mentioned there would be three three-game series for the playoffs if the league had more time on its hands before its athletes return to their respective colleges.
The sub-divisional series are where the Northwoods League made an adjustment to the format in 2021.
Since 2021, the sub-divisional series follow a "1-2" format. The teams with the lower overall winning percentage host game one and the teams with the higher overall winning percentage host games two and three.
If both of the best of three sub-divisional series ends in two days, the divisional championship game will take place the next day.
The teams with the best overall record will have home-field advantage for the divisional championship games, while the team with the best overall record will host the Northwoods League championship game.
If placings do not change with the current Northwoods League standings, the Stingers would take the second seed in the Great Plains West Division.
Willmar would host game one of its best of three series against the St. Cloud Rox at 5:05 p.m. Sunday at Bill Taunton Stadium. Games two and three, at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud, will take place on Monday and Tuesday.
"St. Cloud will be a big challenge for us. We played them a lot this season," Stingers field manager Freddy Smith said. "The Rox are one of the best teams in the Northwoods League. I know all eyes will be on that series."
GREEN LAKES EAST: The Kalamazoo Growlers (10-21 second half; 32-35 overall) were the Great Lakes East first-half sub-winners, earning a playoffs spot. They will face off against the second half winners of the division in the Traverse City Pit Spitters (23-8; 41-26), who won the league championship in 2019 and 2021.
Game one - Traverse City at Kalamazoo at 5:05 p.m. on Sunday
Game two - Kalamazoo at Traverse City at 7:05 p.m. on Monday
Game three (if necessary) - Kalamazoo at Traverse City at 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday
GREAT LAKES WEST: The Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (24-8; 53-14) won the first half of their sub-division. The Rapids Rafters will have home field advantage against either the Wausau Woodchucks, Fond du Lac Dock Spiders or the Lakeshore Chinooks. The three teams are in a race for the second spot in the playoffs. If the playoffs started today, the Woodchucks would take that spot with a 35-31 record. Wausau is ahead of the Dock Spiders by one game and the Chinooks by two. The Chinooks have six games remaining, while the Woodchucks and Doc Spiders have five.
Game one - Wisconsin at opponent TBD at TBD time on Sunday
Game two - TBD opponent at Wisconsin at TBD time on Monday
Game three (if necessary) TBD opponent at Wisconsin at TBD time on Tuesday
GREAT PLAINS EAST: Winners of the first and second halves, respectively, the Duluth Huskies (13-16; 32-30) and the Eau Claire Express (20-9; 39-24) will face off against each other in the first round of the playoffs.
Game one - Eau Claire at Duluth at 5:35 p.m. on Sunday
Game two - Duluth at Eau Claire at 7:05 p.m. on Monday
Game three (if necessary) - Duluth at Eau Claire at TBD on Tuesday
GREAT PLAINS WEST: If the playoffs ended today, the Stingers (23-6; 44-19) would be the second half sub-division winners. Willmar will compete against first-half winners in the St. Cloud Rox (21-9; 46-17). The Rox lead the Stingers by two games, both teams have five games remaining. It is likely the Rox will take home field advantage.
Game one - St. Cloud at Willmar at 5:05 p.m. on Sunday
Game two - Willmar at St. Cloud at TBD on Monday
Game three (if necessary) - Willmar at St. Cloud at TBD on Tuesday
*All stats/records are through Monday's games