NWL Baseball: Varland follows in impressive footsteps

WILLMAR - Pitching the night after Polo Portela dazzled once again on the mound, Willmar Stingers right-hander Gus Varland followed in Portela's footsteps in another way: making a seamless transition to the starting rotation.

Willmar Stingers players Luke Becker and Nate Sterijevski celebrate after Becker scores a run during Tuesday night's game against Bismarck. Curt Hogg / Tribune

WILLMAR - Pitching the night after Polo Portela dazzled once again on the mound, Willmar Stingers right-hander Gus Varland followed in Portela's footsteps in another way: making a seamless transition to the starting rotation.

In his first start of the season, Varland allowed just one unearned run and struck out six batters over six innings as the Stingers bats gave him plenty of early support in a 7-2 win over the Bismarck Larks on Tuesday night at Bill Taunton Stadium.

"We've been pretty lucky in that regard to transition with Polo and now Gus," Stingers manager Eric Vasquez said. "Now, hopefully it will work on the reverse side in the bullpen. The guys have taken ownership of their new roles and it's working out nicely."

Danny Rodriguez went 4-for-4 at the plate and drove in three runs to lead the way at the plate for Willmar, which jumped ahead quickly with a four-run first inning against Larks starting pitcher Tyler Steele.

"Danny came in for early work before the game to get some things worked out in the swing," Vasquez said. "We sort of told him, 'This is your approach tonight.' We almost dictated it for him and it was fun to see."


Those four runs would hold up for Varland, who lowered his earned run average to 0.72 on the season. The Concordia-St. Paul sophomore had been a stalwart in the bullpen for the Stingers, allowing just two runs in 19 innings in a relief role, prompting Vasquez to give him an opportunity to start.

Two weeks ago, Portela's transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation returned positive results, as the right hander has not allowed an earned run in 26-2/3 innings this season.

The early returns on Varland's move to the rotation Tuesday night gave his manager confidence to also make him a starter going forward.

"With the way he's been throwing, I see him being in the rotation full time now," Vasquez said. "The stuff, command and control are all there. We can sit him there for six innings and then let our bullpen take over from there."

Luke Chevalier and Hayden Petrovick continued a strong transition of their own into the bullpen, as well, sealing the win with one run over three combined innings.

Game MVP: Varland delivered quite the performance, but Rodriguez' best game of the season earned him honors against the Larks.

Coming into the game, Rodriguez had just one multi-hit game; Steele, meanwhile, had allowed just one earned run over 15 innings in his last two starts. The Stingers first baseman, though, put in the additional early work in the batting cage prior to the game and won the matchup.

Rodriguez broke out with a four-hit performance that included a two-run single in the first and another RBI knock in the fifth. The Bethune-Cookman sophomore raised his batting average to .279 and OPS to .734 in the process.


Turning Point: Though nothing would be given to Willmar one night after it lost a 6-2 lead in the ninth inning, an early four-run cushion felt fairly safe with Varland on the hill.

With one out in the bottom of the first, one run in and runners on first and second, designated hitter Luke Becker rolled a grounder to third base. Instead of Bismarck getting a double play to escape the inning, an error allowed Becker to reach as the Stingers loaded the bases for Rodriguez.

Two pitches later, and Willmar had a 3-0 lead after Rodriguez turned a pitch around to center field.

Next Up: The Stingers continue a four-game homestand with another game against Bismarck on Wednesday night at 7:05 p.m.

Willmar 7, Bismarck 2

Larks 001 000 010-2 7 2

Stingers 400 012 000-7 11 1

Hitting - Willmar: Marcus Still 2-4 r sb, Josh Bissonette 1-3 r rbi, Luke Becker 1-4 r, Danny Rodriguez 4-4 rbi-3, Nate Sterijevski 1-3 r, Tyler Reichenborn 1-4 r ... Bismarck: Scooter Bynum 1-4 rbi, Quinn Irey 1-3 r, Luke Waldek 1-2 r


Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Willmar: Gus Varland (W) 6-4-1-0-2-6, Luke Chevalier 2-3-1-1-0-0, Hayden Petrovick 1-0-0-0-1-1 ... Bismarck: Tyler Steele (L) 5-8-5-4-2-2, Connor Hilburn 2-3-2-0-1-1, Nick Boyles 1-0-0-0-0-1

VFW Baseball

Willmar 12, Starbuck 1

Willmar used impressive pitching from Caleb Owens and took advantage of Starbuck fielding errors to earn a lopsided victory.

Owens struck out nine in five innings and only allowed two hits, including a double by Dylan Jergenson. At the plate, Owens went 2-for-3 with three runs scored. Drey Dirksen also scored three runs.

Willmar 006 33-12 9 0

Starbuck 000 01-1 2 6

Hitting - Willmar: Caleb Owens 2-3 r-3, Drey Dirksen 1-2 rbi-2 r-3, Andy Schultz 1-3 rbi-2, Tanner Bauman 1-2 rbi-3 r, Wade Fischer 1-3 rbi, Ashton Gregory 2-3 rbi r, Bryan Weidemann 1-2 r-2 ... Starbuck: Jared Freese 1-3, Dylan Jergenson 1-2 2b rbi

Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Willmar: Owens (W) 5-2-1-1-6-9 ... Starbuck: Ryan Amundson (L) 3-5-8-4-3-1, Jergenson 2-4-4-2-3-1

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