STANTON - A collective of hornets set up shop above the Stanton Wildcats' dugout this week, though the greater sting Sunday came from the bats camped inside.
Stanton's four home runs and three doubles were too much for Mosquito Inn-Toivola to handle, as the Wildcats won the best-of-three series and advanced to this week's championship series with a 13-6 home victory in Game 3.
"We hit the ball well as a team tonight and we were able to string some hits together, which was huge," Stanton third baseman Erik Nettell said.
Stanton’s Erik Nettell watches the second of his two home runs to right field in Sunday’s Twilight League playoff game against Mosquito Inn-Toivola at Stanton alongside Toivola catcher Tyler Ebben. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Nettell launched two of Stanton's four homers, while Daron Durocher collected four hits, two RBIs and the pitching win.
It didn't start out auspiciously, as Jim Maltese took Durocher deep to left for a leadoff homer. Toivola pitcher Will Williams doubled in a run to the centerfield wall to give himself a 2-0 lead.
"(With Toivola) hitting a home run in the first at-bat and jumping out to a 2-0 lead, I was happy with the way we responded," Durocher said.
Toivola 200 0040 - 6 10 4
Stanton 331 105X - 13 15 1
WP - Daron Durocher, CG, 6 ER, 10 H, 3 K, 2 BB
LP - Will Williams, 3 IP, 6 ER, 9 H, 4 K, 0 BB
T - Jim Maltese, 2-for-4, HR, 3 RBI, Tyler Ebben, 2-for-2, RBI
S - Erik Nettell, 2-for-3, 2 HR, 3 RBI, Daron Durocher, 4-for-5, 2 RBI
He set the example by legging out a double on a high fly to center that dropped in. Two batters later, he had a front-row seat as Paul Kuoppala bashed a moon shot to the left-field power alley that appeared to clear at least one 25-foot tree beyond the fence. Two batters after that, lefty Josh Koskela clubbed one to right field for a solo shot and a 3-2 Stanton lead.
Nettell struck out looking between the two first-inning homers. When his turn came again in the second, he made no mistake, blasting one out to right to score Josh Hibbard (who had earlier driven in Durocher with an RBI single) and make it 6-2.
Nettell's second clout, two innings later off reliever Robert Brooks, made it 8-2, but instead of crashing over the mercy-rule boundaries, the scales finally tipped back in favor of the visitors.
Toivola chopped Stanton's lead to 8-6 with a four-run sixth which included Tyler Ebben's RBI double, a two-run single from Maltese and an RBI single by Brooks.
Durocher said he almost pulled himself off the mound when Brooks came up with two on in the inning. Though the Toivola veteran blooped a single to center, Durocher was confident he'd made a good pitch to him and could do so again to Jon Crawford. Crawford hit another flare, but this one was juggled and caught by Hibbard ranging behind shortstop with his back to the plate.
Stanton essentially sealed its berth in the championship series with BlueSky Health starting Tuesday by scoring four times in the bottom of the sixth on three hits, two errors and a wild pitch during an attempted squeeze bunt. Durocher added an RBI single for his fourth hit and second RBI before going back to the mound and setting Toivola down in the seventh. Nettell turned Jason Coffey's hard-hit grounder into an around-the-horn 5-4-3 double play to end the game.
"They hit the ball hard. Everything toward me was a screamer, but I love that," Nettell said.
It was a tough end for a Toivola squad that pushed Stanton to the limit.
"Daron settled down, our guys got overanxious and we just didn't put up enough runs," Toivola second baseman/manager Rexx Janowiak said.
Durocher allowed six earned runs on 10 hits. He walked two and struck out three in a complete game he graded as "pretty good."
"I didn't expect anything less (from Toivola). I knew they would come out with some confidence," he said.
Williams took the loss, allowing six earned runs on nine hits in three innings. He struck out four. Four players led Toivola's offense with two hits apiece.
The championship series begins Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Stanton. The Wildcats and BlueSky split four regular-season games, with Stanton gaining home-field advantage by virtue of a narrow advantage in aggregate score between the teams.
"It's going to be really tough for us. We're going to be a little shorthanded, it's going to take a solid team effort to beat them, it always does," Durocher said.