Only three weeks ago, the St. Cloud Rox were moving through a ho-hum, shortened 2020 season, hovering around .500 and in third place. But the team suddenly caught fire in late July and went on a historic run, culminating in 17 wins over 19 outings and 13 consecutive home triumphs coming into the season's final game.
The Rox hoped to wrest the Minnesota-Iowa division title away from Waterloo Thursday night at Joe Faber Field. The Bucks led most of the summer but St. Cloud’s furious August run pushed them into first place by just a few percentage points earlier this week. With Waterloo crushing Mankato to finish 28-13, St. Cloud only had to defeat rival Willmar for an eighth straight time. On a perfect 80-degree evening with the largest crowd of the season on hand, Luke Albright was unfortunately not his dominant self. Facing a team that scored 31 runs their last two games, he labored over 3.1 innings of work. Coming off a 12-strikeout game, Albright fanned five, but walked three and allowed four runs on six hits, including a home run. The Rox bullpen did not fare much better, though the defense also let pitchers down by committing three errors.
Team MVP (announced pre game) Blake Stelzer entered mid-game in relief and struggled, yielding three runs and three walks in two innings. Rox pitchers walked seven Stingers overall, hit one, and tossed two wild pitches. After a remarkable month of near-flawless baseball, it was a tough night.
Down 8-1 entering the 7th, St. Cloud mounted rallies with multiple men in base each of the final three innings, but Willmar's bullpen eventually closed the door (and season), 9-3.
The 2020 St. Cloud Rox still finished 27-13, boasting a franchise-best .675 winning percentage, a smidgeon ahead of the 2015 squad that went 51-25 (.671) and lost the Summer Collegiate World Series to Kenosha; even the 2017 Northwoods League championship team only went 46-31 (.597). A memorable 52 days during the tumultuous summer of 2020, indeed.
A.J. Kaufman covers the Northwoods League, college baseball and college hockey for KACMEDIA. His commentaries can also be found on Alpha News Minnesota.