The Bismarck Larks lost just 11 of 36 games in the first half of the 2018 season.
Just six games into the second half, they are more than halfway to 11.
The Larks fell to 0-6 in the second half after dropping a tough 2-1 decision to the Willmar Stingers in a Northwoods League game played at Bismarck’s Municipal Ballpark. Starter Jonathan McKinney and reliever Nick Mears combined on a six-hitter, and the Stingers scored all of the runs they needed in the top of the third inning to improve to 4-2.
The Larks plated their only run in the bottom of the fourth, giving them 14 in six games.
“I really don't know what to say about it. It's baseball and you're going to go through stretches like this, but it's frustrating," said Larks coach Sean Repay. "We had a chance to snap out of it tonight, but we couldn't come through with timely, clutch hits. But tomorrow's another day ... another chance to get on track."
Trailing 2-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Larks had a chance to at least even the score. Tristen Carranza led off with a single, and after Fears struck out Jacob Nesbit and Matt Warkentin, Michael Farnell singled to right, sending pinch-runner Chase Coker to third. However, Fears retired Braden Williams on a deep fly ball to left center, ending the game.
McKinney gave up a run on three hits, walked two and struck out 12 in seven innings of work. Mears allowed three hits and fanned two in two innings.
The Larks victimized McKinney in a game earlier this season.
"We beat him up in three innings the last time, but tonight, it was completely different," Repay said. "He changed speeds so well. He threw three or four pitches for strikes and kept us off-balance. We got beat by a good arm, but at the same time I thought we were really pressing at the plate, trying to make something happen."
In the top of the third, Cal Elvers walked to lead off the inning and scored two outs later on Matt Rudick’s triple. Control problems then set in for Larks starter Hendry Rodriguez. The right-hander issued three straight walks to force in Willmar’s second run.
One inning later, Caleb Ricca led off with a double and later stole third with one out. A strikeout and a groundout got Rodriguez out of the inning.
The Larks finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Carranza walked, Nesbit singled to left, and Warkentin reached on an infield single, loading the bases. After McKinney struck out Farnell for the second out, Williams drew a walk to put the Larks on the board. The inning ended when Carson Bartels grounded into a force-out at second.
Bismarck’s Ripken Reyes singled with two out in the bottom of the eighth, but was later caught trying to steal second.
The Stingers loaded the bases with two out in the top of the ninth before Bismarck reliever Colan Borchers got Eli Wilson to foul out to the first baseman, ending the threat.
Rodriguez went 6.2 innings, allowing two runs on six hits while walking seven and striking out six.
The Larks begin a six-game road trip tonight at Thunder Bay.