The River Falls Fighting Fish aren’t exactly rolling into the playoffs after losing three of their final four games. But they are entering the postseason as St. Croix Valley Baseball League champions and the No. 1 seed in their four-team semifinal weekend bracket.
The Fish dropped their final two SCVBL games, 6-4 to Prescott Saturday, July 27 and 9-8 in walk-off fashion at Spring Valley Sunday, July 28, but still claimed the SCVBL title with a record of 14-4, one game ahead of the second place Pirates. They split their final two non-league games, beating New Richmond 5-4 Wednesday July 31 and losing to Windfall Lake 7-6 Friday, Aug. 2, to finish the regular season 26-9 overall.
The top-seeded Fish will open the Wisconsin Baseball Association State Tournament in Haugen against the fourth-seeded Brill Millers Saturday, Aug. 10, at 3 p.m. And Fish player-manager Josh Eidem believes the team will be ready to go.
“I think it makes us stronger, he said about the Fish’s recent struggles. “We had a really tough schedule, in both league and non-league, at the end of the year. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned, because I don’t think we’re playing our best baseball going into the playoffs like you want to. We’re capable of doing more than what we’ve shown the last few weeks. But I also know from experience that having a week off, and then a different playoff setting, tends to make things a lot different.”
Weston Lombard, James Witt and Lucas Luedtke teamed up to allow just two hits against New Richmond last Wednesday but the score was tied 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth until Trey Larson drilled a two-out, 1-2 pitch through the ride side to score Andy Metcalf with the winning run.
Larson had two hits Wednesday night and hit two doubles Friday and is swinging the hottest bat for the Fish entering the postseason while Luedtke drove in three runs Friday with a pair of doubles and a single. Lombard, Charlie Griffin, Luedtke and Kyle Fritz all saw action on the mound as the Fish tried to keep everyone fresh for the postseason.
River Falls’ pitching staff got a big boost when they added 49 year-old Plum City Blues ace Tony Garner for the playoffs. Eidem said the plan is to start Lombard on the mound and have Fritz work out of the bullpen Saturday against Brill and if they make it to Saturday hand the ball over to Garner.
Eidem stressed, however, that the top-seeded Fish aren’t looking past the fourth-seeded Millers.
“We’re always happy to get a number one seed,” he noted. “The trouble is, we’ve been a number four seed before and the number four seeds aren’t bad teams. Brill has some good players, a long history of playing well in the tournament, and it’s like a home game for them. They’re five miles down the road. So we’ll have to play well to win that first one.”
Eidem, Joel Schaffer, Trevor Gutting and Brian Giebel are the only players left from their 2011 WBA state championship team, but Eidem said he sees a lot of similarities between that team and this year’s squad.
“They like each other,” he said. “They hang out off the field together. They’re early for batting practice. When a kid comes out and asks for an autograph they’re happy to do it and they’re not walking away joking about it. Like that other group, they understand their role in the community and just being a positive piece of it.”
If the Fish beat Brill Saturday they’ll face either the second-seeded Eau Claire Cavaliers or No. 3 La Crescent Cardinals Sunday at 3 p.m. in Haugen with the winner advancing to the 8-team WBA finals Aug. 15-17 at Wakanda Park in Menomonie.