The River Falls Post 121 baseball team continued its strong start to the season, going 3-2 this week as the team enter the mid-summer break. Post 121 began the week by holding off New Richmond Post 80 7-6 Wednesday night at First National Bank of River Falls Field.
Tyler Penny started on the mound for River Falls, but was replaced by Nick Speckman to begin the second inning. Speckman picked up the win after giving up only five hits and one earned run over three innings.
A slow start at the plate for River Falls changed in the third inning when second baseman Alex Kelm and center fielder Jaden Schwantz strung together hits to set up a three-run double by right fielder Braden Mork to give River Falls a 5-3 lead. Mork went 3-3 at the plate that night.
New Richmond responded with two runs in the top of the fourth before River Falls took the lead for good with a two-run fourth inning, punctuated by a triple from shortstop Jake Lindsay. Schwantz came in to close out the game for River Falls, striking out three and walking four to pick up the save. River Falls used four pitchers to ensure the team would have enough pitching for the weekend tournament in Mankato, Minn.
The first game of the weekend was against Mankato National, where River Falls was limited to only four hits over seven innings. Jake Lindsay pitched all seven innings for River Falls, giving up only five hits and three runs in the 3-0 loss.
"Jake battled and kept us in position against a very good Mankato team," head coach Ryan Bishop said. "We just didn't hit well enough, and didn't capitalize on the few opportunities we had. But credit their pitcher, he mixed and matched all game to keep us off balance at the plate."
River Falls responded well in the next game, putting 11 runs past New Prague to win 11-5. Tyler Penny had eight strikeouts, pitching five innings and giving up only six hits.
"Tyler had one of his best starts of the year," Bishop said. "He was really in a groove the first few innings commanding the strike zone with both of his pitches."
The bats started coming together in the second and fourth inning as River Falls put up five runs apiece to blow the game open. Joey Davis stood out for River Falls at the plate, scoring two runs on one hit and also driving in a run off a sacrifice bunt in only three at-bats. The bottom half of the lineup had nine of the team's 13 hits.
"The bottom half of our order really swung it well at the plate," Bishop said. "They were aggressive with the fastball and put a lot of good swings on the ball."
Post 121 followed up the win over New Prague by blowing out Sleepy Eye 14-2. River Falls put up all 14 runs before an hourlong rain delay in the third inning and had 15 hits. Joe Stoffel stole the show against Sleepy Eye, pitching all five innings and giving up only two hits.
"Joe was flat out dominant at times on the mound today, especially before the delay," Bishop said. "Top if off with a 4-4 showing at the plate, and that's quite a day."
The eight-run second inning proved to be the difference maker for Post 121. River Falls left eight runners on base throughout the game but players limited themselves to only one error, far fewer than some of their earlier games in the week.
While the bats were rolling against New Prague and Sleepy Eye, Post 121 couldn't find the same success against the Mankato teams, dropping their final game of the week 7-1 against Mankato American. The rain-shortened game went five innings and was played through a steady rain.
"Definitely not ideal conditions, but it was the same for both teams," Bishop said. "Neither pitcher could grip a curveball so it was straight fastballs all game long. They simply hit the fastball better than we did."
Jaden Schwantz was the only player for Post 121 to record a hit in the game, a single in the top of the first inning. River Falls left six runners on base and benefitted from three Mankato American errors.
Post 121 faces a variety of injuries from multi-sport athletes participating in camps and games in the past weeks, including four last week. The biggest loss was Jake Bergmanis, who has a broken humorous and torn UCL that will keep him out of the rest of the Legion season.
"This was a challenging week for us, both physically and mentally, with some unfortunate injuries that change lineups and pitching rotations," Bishop said. "To lose a player and leader like Jake is as big a blow as any. No one works harder to prepare himself than Bergy. That's one of those times that a coach says it's just not fair to the kid."
Bishop added that Bergmanis will face this challenge head on and become a stronger person for it, even though it's hard for teenagers to see the bigger picture when they face this type of adversity.
"We all know sports offer challenge and adversity to our kids," Bishop said. "(Bergstrom's) perseverance will continue to lead our team, even if it's not directly on the game field."
Post 121 next returns to action July 9 in New Richmond. The team will have its final home games of the regular season against Red Wing, St. Paul Park and Altoona on July 10-12 at First National Bank of River Falls Field.