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State title for Legion juniors, beat Beaver Dam for championship

Team members include, front row from left, Ryan Flanigan, Mason Graetz, Dylan Penny, Zach Otterson and Noah Langer. Middle row, Zach Hadzima, John Swindle, Jaxin Larson, bat boy Carson Flanigan, Bailey Ronnestrand, Wyatt Brunholzl and Corey Huppert. Back row, Jesse Halling, John Miller, Jake Lindsay, Nick Speckman, Brian Miller, Sam Swick, Matt Miller and head coach Mark Vrieze. Not pictured is assistant coach Nick Raymo. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
River Falls Legion Post 121 junior baseball team members storm the field Sunday after capturing the state title. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Beaver Dam helped put an end to the River Falls American Legion Post 121 junior team’s season last year at the state tournament.

River Falls made sure that didn’t happen two years in a row.

Instead, Post 121 made history and claimed its first junior state championship on Sunday in a 3-0 win over Beaver Dam.

The long road to glory meant keeping focus, said River Falls coach Mark Vrieze.

“We may have had a rough start to the summer, but the boys played their best ball when it mattered,” he said. “ We kept working on doing the little things and controlling what we can control.”

River Falls’ march to the title began with a 4-3 win last week over Beloit. Vrieze said timely hitting and a solid outing by pitcher Jake Lindsay keyed the win.

Post 121 moved on to play Bayport in the second round and got a complete-game performance from pitcher Jaxin Larson. Bailey Ronnestrand led the way offensively with two two-run doubles on the way to River Falls’ 6-4 win.

Up next was Beaver Dam -- the team that beat River Falls in the 2014 state tournament. River Falls bested Beaver Dam in Game 3 behind a winning performance by Ryan Flanigan.

Small ball was the name of the game in Game 3, with Ronnestrand and Dylan Penny pacing River Falls at the plate.

“Momentum was on River Falls’ side from that point on,” Vrieze said.

The win catapulted River Falls to the title game, but they first had to play West Salem on Saturday. Despite a stellar game from pitcher Zac Ottarson, River Falls couldn’t generate run support and lost 3-0.

The loss set up a winner-take-all championship game against Beaver Dam.

Lindsay returned to the mound against Beaver Dam “and didn’t disappoint,” Vrieze said. He tossed a one-hit complete game shutout in the championship match.

“Jake located his fastball wherever he wanted and dropped some curves to keep them guessing,” the coach said.

Wyatt Brunholzl and Lindsay produced back-to-back second-inning doubles to help collect the only three runs River Falls needed for the win.

Vrieze said he could almost see it coming.

“When we had our meeting Sunday morning, they were already locked in, focused, and ready to accomplish their goal,” he said.

The team found a way during the season to make a habit of seizing opportunities, the coach said.

“This team has a chemistry that is really hard to find in young teams,” Vrieze said. “They have accomplished a piece of history that nobody can ever take away from them.”

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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