Honkers feeling confident heading into the second half of Northwoods League season
The first half of the Northwoods League ended on July 4 with Rochester finishing 15-19.
The first half of the 2022 Northwoods League season is officially in the books.
The Rochester Honkers ended it on a high note by knocking off the La Crosse Loggers 6-4 in front of 1,125 people on the Fourth of July at Mayo Field.
It capped a first-half that witnessed the Honkers finish fourth out of five teams in the Great Plains West Division with a 15-19 record — 10 1/2 games back of first-place St. Cloud (25-8).
Yet, the Honkers still played good ball, with that record of four games under .500 a tad misleading.
The offense at times flashed potential, finishing sixth in runs scored (213), sixth in on-base percentage (.380) and fourth in walks (195) in the 22-team Northwoods League. Yet, the Honkers had a hard time hitting for average, finishing in the bottom half of the league at .243. It made a leap up from .238 over the past week, however, it still showed up with the Honkers having a hard time consistently driving in runners in scoring position.
“The offense has been great, but the biggest issue for us at this point is timely hitting,” manager Andrew Urbistondo said. “We’re getting on base. I can count plenty of times we have (runners on) second and third or bases loaded. I think just our approach, certain guys get up there and see bases loaded, they want to be the hero. Try too much. And that's how we end up fouling balls back that we should probably be putting in play. But it's just part of growth.
"It's not about wins and losses. It's about playing good baseball. And wins will come with that. Our biggest focus in the locker room is really coming together and just trying to try to reach that peak potential that we have.”
One of those guys who seems to be reaching his potential is Nico Regino, who is hitting .330 with a .462 on-base percentage in 28 games. The outfielder played under Urbistondo at San Joaquin Delta College where he hit better than .300 this past year. He recently committed to Division I Charleston Southern University while here in Rochester.
“Regino has been absolutely awesome for us this season,” Urbistondo said. “He's very mature-minded when it comes to his approach and mechanics with his swing. He's always watching. He's always asking other guys how they got hits. The good thing about him before he goes up for his first at-bat is he's probably had about 10 in his head already. That's just kind of the mature minded guy he is, he's very consistent finding a barrel and he is locked down in right field, so it's pretty easy to put him in the lineup every day.”
Regino along with Tyler White (.368 average in 15 games) and catcher Michael Carico (.327 average, three home runs in 18 games) give the Honkers optimism for the second half, though it is still unknown if Carico will come back after trying out for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team over the holiday weekend.
One would think the Honkers would need him along with a little bit better pitching.
Now, the pitching numbers in the NWL never tell the full story.
This league is meant for guys to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It's the time to work on throwing a slider on a 2-0 count or working on a third or fourth pitch as well as getting better at holding runners and being quicker to home plate. The No. 1 goal of the coaching staff is development.
“So our job here this summer is just develop,” Honkers pitching coach Mark Reardanz said. “Just get them better at what they're struggling at during the school year, or you know, what their coaches think they should be working on. Just getting better at certain things.
"As a pitching coach, my job is make sure guys keep up with arm care, recovery, stuff like that. But the biggest thing is just like the mental game, just trying to get guys to work through things.”
But the Honkers need to be more consistent.
The first half saw them finish with the league’s sixth-worst ERA at 6.16 and allowing the second most homers (25).
Like the offense, the group shows plenty of flashes, but big innings have hurt them. There have been 10 games where the Honkers have allowed double digit runs.
“Myself and my other coaches, we sat down to look at all of our losses, and it really comes down to just one inning and minimizing that big inning,” Urbistondo said. “It always starts with an error and then some walks and then you know, hit, hit, walk again and just kind of unravels.”
That’s the key for the second half, as overall, the Honkers feel like they have the talent and make-up to make a run at a playoff spot.
“I’m super happy with my guys,” Urbistondo said. “I love the team we put together. I think it’s been an awesome summer so far.”
NWL first half recap
The Wisconsin Rapids Rafters won a first half record 29 games, finishing an impressive 29-6 with a league-best 3.03 team ERA.
Rafters shortstop Ben Ross is in the hunt for the triple crown with a league-leading .433 batting average, eight home runs and in the top five with 31 RBIs.
The Duluth Huskies won Monday to secure the Great Plains East Division first half crown and playoff spot. The Kalamazoo Growlers finished first in the Great Lakes East Division with the Rafters taking home the West Division title.