The Duluth Huskies exploded for five runs in each of the sixth and eighth innings to rout the Willmar Stingers 17-7 and win the Northwoods League North Division playoff title Tuesday night in Willmar, Minn.
The victory sends the Huskies to the best-of-three Summer Collegiate World Series, which begins tonight in Fond du Lac, Wis. Duluth will host Game 2 at Wade Stadium on Thursday night and, if necessary, Game 3 on Friday. Game times were yet to be determined late Tuesday.
The Huskies' Michael McCann was 3-for-4 and drove in six runs, hitting a two-run double in the sixth, a two-run single in the seventh and a two-run home run in the eighth to seal the victory.
Tony Monroy, batting ahead of McCann near the bottom of the order, was 3-for-6 with four RBIs and three runs scored. Nick Sogard, Chris Gilbody, Hunter Bigge and General McArthur (four RBIs) had two hits apiece in the Huskies' 18-hit attack.
Meanwhile, Andrew Stout was solid on the mound, allowing just five hits and striking out seven in seven innings.
Willmar, which finished atop the North Division second-half standings by a half-game over Mankato and 2 1/2 games ahead of Duluth, took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on Davis Elliott's RBI single.
With Willmar leading in the fifth, the benches cleared after the Huskies' Julian Escobedo was tagged out in an aggressive rundown. Following the scuffle, Escobedo and Willmar's Joey Ortiz were ejected. A Duluth bench player also got the boot for his part in the brouhaha.
Whether the fracas was the impetus or not, the tone of the game changed dramatically after it.
Willmar starter Sam Gardner, so solid through 5 1/3 innings, unraveled in the sixth. He allowed Bigge's one-out double, threw a wild pitch that allowed Bigge to take third, then hit Sean Watkins.
McArthur - who drove in four runs - followed with an RBI single, Gardner was yanked, and Monroy greeted Willmar reliever Bryant Claunch with another RBI single. McCann doubled in the third and fourth runs of the inning, and Carlos Moseley's bases-loaded walk brought home a fifth run, putting the Huskies up 6-1.
In the seventh, Bigge and Watkins were both hit by pitches, Monroy drove in another run and McCann's two-run single made it 9-1. The already wide-open gates were blown up, with Duluth scoring five runs in the eighth and three more in the ninth.
McCann, who entered the game with 13 RBIs, seemed intent on equaling that total. His two-run home run in the eighth gave him six for the game.
Willmar scored six times in the ninth to make the Huskies sweat before Watkins recorded the final three outs.