Northwoods League: Duluth takes division title over Willmar
Huskies beat Stingers 5-3 in Great Plains championship
WILLMAR — The Willmar Stingers had some work to do after trailing 5-1 to the Duluth Huskies in the Northwoods League Great Plains championship game.
Stingers field manager Freddy Smith was looking for his team to jab away at Duluth’s lead instead of going for the haymaker.
“There was never a panic; we’ve been so good at coming from behind this year,” Smith said. “We’ve been battle tested all year long and I think that’s shown in the last few games.”
The Huskies’ pitching staff was able to cushion the best shots Willmar took at them. Tyler Moniz-Witten, Jake Schelonka and Isaiah Piscitello each kept the league’s high-scoring offense scoreless in relief to give the Huskies the 5-3 victory at Bill Taunton Stadium.
Duluth faces the Great Lakes Division champion for the Northwoods League championship on Thursday. The Kalamazoo Growlers and Wisconsin Rapids Rafters play for the Great Lakes title on Wednesday. The Growlers swept the two-time defending league champion Traverse City Pit Spitters. The Rafters beat the Wausau Woodchucks 9-1 on Tuesday to win the best-of-three series.
The Huskies are heading to their fourth Northwoods League championship appearance and first league title. They were runners-up in 2018, ‘13 and ‘04.
Duluth and Willmar traded runs over the first inning-and-a-half.
Duluth got on the board in the top of the first when Eduardo Rosario hit a two-out single to left field that scored Kristian Campbell. Willmar followed up with two straight singles from Brett Bateman and Scott Anderson to start the bottom of the frame. Bateman eventually scored on a groundout by Drey Dirksen.
Devin Hurdle became a catalyst for the Huskies’ offense. He put Duluth ahead 2-1 with a solo home run to left-center. Then in the fourth, he started a three-run inning with a single that scored Joe Vos. Cam Frederick laid down a squeeze bunt, with a sprinting Jared Mettam sliding at home and beating the tag. One more run came in on a sacrifice fly by Jack Painter that scored Hurdle.
Slowly, Willmar started chipping away at the 5-1 lead.
“We’re pretty familiar with comebacks this year,” Bateman said.
Jordan Sagedahl, the Stingers’ left fielder and BOLD High School alum, hit a two-out double down the left-field line. He moved to third on a Kyle Payne single, then scored on a double steal as Payne beat the tag at second.
Then with one out in the fifth, Bateman put the ball over the center fielder’s head for a triple. He eventually scored on an Anderson groundout.
Coming back this week from a concussion, Bateman — a sophomore from the University of Minnesota — went 4-for-5 with two runs.
“It’s just about sticking to your same approach … and for me, it works my way,” Bateman said about his night at the plate. “Trust in myself and all the hard work I’ve done in the past.”
Coming in for starter Steven Brooks in the fourth, Willmar reliever Mitch Gutknecht — a redshirt freshman from Minnesota State-Mankato by way of Stillwater — struck out seven. He gave up three hits and no walks over 4-1/3 innings.
“Mitch did a great job shutting it down and giving us a chance on offense,” Bateman said.
Willmar closes out the 2022 season with a 50-21 record.
“Everyone came in and did their job and gave us a chance,” Bateman said. “At the end of the day, it comes down to the bus rides and the nights at the hotel. That’s what you’re going to remember; you’re not going to remember the wins and losses. … I’m going to be thinking about the relationships I made with these guys.”
Smith added, “A big part of us sustaining success this summer is the personalities we’ve had in the dugout and being the same guy every day and establishing that team chemistry early in the season. That’s hard to really measure and that’s one of the intangibles that makes up a winning team.”
Duluth 5, Willmar 3
Duluth 110 300 000-5 10 0
Willmar 100 110 000-3 10 1
Hitting - Duluth: Eduardo Rosario 2-5 rbi, Kristian Campbell 1-4 r bb sb, Devin Hurdle 3-4 hr 4-2 rbi-2, Joe Vos 1-4 2b r, Jared Mettam 1-4 r sb, Jonathan Vastine 1-4 2b bb, Jack Painter 0-4 rbi sf, Cam Frederick 2-4 rbi … Willmar: Brett Bateman 4-5 3b r-2, Scott Anderson 1-3 rbi sf, Graysen Tarlow 1-5, Jordan Sagedahl 2-4 2b r, Kyle Payne 1-3 bb, Jake Entrekin 1-1, Drey Dirksen 0-3 rbi bb
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Duluth: Alex Potter (W) 5.2-8-3-3-2-6, Tyler Moniz-Witten 1.1-0-0-0-0-1, Jake Schelonka 1-0-0-0-1-2, Isaiah Piscitello (Sv) 1-2-0-0-0-0 … Willmar: Steven Brooks (L) 3.2-7-5-5-2-1, Mitch Gutnecht 4.1-4-0-0-0-7, Jack Zigan 1-0-0-0-0-3