The River Falls Fighting Fish entered the postseason as St. Croix Valley Baseball League champions with a 26-9 overall overall and a No. 1 seed in their four-team bracket. But the fourth-seeded Brill Millers weren’t impressed.
Brill used a combination of small-ball and timely hitting to score five runs in the fourth inning and led 8-0 by the time the Fish scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to end the Fish’s season in a first-round Wisconsin Baseball Association playoff game Saturday, Aug. 10, in Haugen.
River Falls player-manager Josh Eidem said Brill did everything it needed to win the game.
“They kind of played a perfect game,” he said. “We’ve got the kind of team where, throughout the year, we’ve said you have to play a perfect game to beat us. And sure enough these guys came out and had nothing to lose as a four seed and played a perfect game.”
Both teams had chances early to score early but Fish starter Weston Lombard left Brill’s first two batters stranded in the opening inning and worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second.
River Falls, meanwhile, left a pair of runners on base in each of the first two innings and a man at third in the bottom of the third before Brill scored five runs in the top of the fourth inning, all with two outs, to open up a 5-0 lead.
The Fish had just three baserunners through the next four innings -- a hit-by-pitch to Ty Denzer in the fifth, a two-out walk by Joel Schaffer in the sixth and a single by Trey Larson in the eighth -- while Brill scored single runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth to extend its lead to 8-0.
River Falls was finally able to string some hits together in the bottom of the ninth to spoil the shutout. Dylan Penny led off the inning with a single, a fly ball by Eidem was dropped by the Brill left fielder, and Trevor Gutting reached on an infield single to load the bases before Brian Giebel dumped a double over the left fielder’s head to score two runs. Larson’s sac fly to right for the second out of the inning scored Gutting from third but Lucas Luedtke grounded to second to end the game.
Eidem said Brill’s five-run fourth inning was too much to overcome.
“We had some chances early but we didn’t get the two-out hit and they finally got the two-out hit and that was a big momentum swing for them,” he said. “You could just kind of see them gain confidence.”
Brill bunted six times in the game -- four for sacrifices and two that went for singles. Eidem said he expected that style of play from the 2013 state champions.
“We knew they were going to do that,” he said. “Teams tend to build a program in a certain way and these guys have for years done that in the tournament. It’s fundamentals; bunt the ball and move the guy over and just play fundamental baseball.”
River Falls finished with eight hits in the game with four of those coming in the first three innings. Giebel singled and doubled in the loss while Luedtke had a pair of base hits.
Lombard took the loss on the mound, allowing five runs on five hits with seven walks and three strikeouts. Kyle Fritz worked the final five innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on five hits with two strikeouts and no walks.
Despite the season-ending loss, Eidem said it’s been a special summer for the Fighting Fish.
“I told these guys, I’ve played a million years and this is a top-five fun team,” he said. “I told them you can’t let one game define your summer.”