A night after River Falls received the top seed and New Richmond was seeded second in the WIAA Division 2 regional bracket, the two teams squared off on Monday. It was the kind of battle you'd expect from two conference leaders. And it was New Richmond that came out on top, winning 11-9 at the NRHS varsity field. It was the third time all season that River Falls had been defeated.
Both teams had big offensive moments. The Tigers took a 2-0 lead with single runs in the second and third innings. River Falls scored four times in the top of the fourth inning, but the Tigers immediately answered back with three runs to lead 5-4.
The Tigers' lead ballooned with a six-run fifth inning. Tiger senior Reece Lucas had a huge game, highlighted by his fifth inning exploits. He led off the fifth with a double and he doubled again later in the rally. He finished the night with four hits, three of them doubles.
Talon Seckora also doubled in the inning. Jacob Gondreau delivered a two-run single. Gondreau hasn't had many at-bats this season as the coaches are concentrating on developing his catching skills.
"Jacob knows his role. He knows he's our guy," said Tiger coach Travis Helland.
This was the biggest inning the Wildcats have allowed this season. No opponent has scored more than four runs in a game against River Falls all season until Monday.
Cole Eastep was the winning pitcher for the Tigers, working the first four innings. He was making his first start in two years. Only one of the four runs scored against him was earned. Eastep succeeded by getting ahead in the count against most of the Wildcat hitters.
"We gave the ball to the senior and he did everything we wanted," Helland said of Eastep. "He's a smart guy and he knows how to get out of tough positions."
A 5-0 win by the Tigers over Amery on Saturday locked up the 2019 Middle Border Conference championship for the Tigers. The Tigers are 11-0 with three games left. Their nearest competitor has four losses.
The same combination of skilled pitching, timely hitting and quality fielding led the Tigers to victory over Amery. The pitching was supplied by Ryan Kling and Charlie Thibodeau. Kling improved to 7-1 for the season by allowing two hits in the first four innings, striking out eight Warriors. Thibodeau handled the final three innings, allowing two hits with four strikeouts.
The offense again was led by senior Jack Bau, who tripled twice and walked twice in his four plate appearances. Bau has gotten on base in two-thirds of his MBC plate appearances this season. He has 16 hits in conference games and 12 of them have gone for extra bases. He has 23 RBI and 21 runs scored in 11 MBC games.
Bau's first triple knocked in Thibodeau in the opening inning for the first run of the game. Moments later, Lucas singled Bau home.
A walk to Bau started a two-run rally in the third inning. He scored on an error. Kling singled home Lucas for the second run.
The final Tiger run showed how the Tigers can be opportunistic on the bases. Talon Seckora walked, stole second and advanced to third on a fly ball. He scored on a squeeze bunt put down by Hayden Bradbury.
Saturday was Baseball Day in New Richmond, with the varsity game being the fourth game played at Citizens Field. Before the varsity game, the Tigers dedicated a bench at Citizens Field in memory of Shelli Jirik, who died in September after battling cancer. She was the wife of long-time Tiger assistant coach Rick Jirik. The Jirik family, including Shelli's parents, attended the game.
"The night was about their family. It was a special moment for our baseball family," said Tiger coach Travis Helland.
Hudson is near the bottom of the Big Rivers Conference standings, but the Raiders were better than the Tigers when they met Friday. The Raiders scored four runs in the top of the first inning. The Tigers kept trying to come back, but their efforts fell short in a 10-4 non-conference loss.
Both teams finished with 10 hits. But the Tigers made three errors where the Raiders played clean defense.
"We never really got it going," Helland said. "It started with our pitching and defense. We didn't throw as many strikes as we needed and we didn't make all the defensive plays."
The main source of offense for the Tigers was Bradbury. He lined a two-run double in the second inning to trim Hudson's lead to 4-2. Bradbury followed with a two-run single in the fourth inning, at that time cutting the Hudson lead to 6-4.
Thibodeau and Brandon Gaspord also had two hits for the Tigers. Fred Riba reached base four times on a single and three walks.
The Tigers improved to 10-0 in the MBC with a 4-1 win at Prescott on Tuesday. Prescott was an early contender for the MBC title but the Cards have dropped four straight games to slide to 5-5 in the standings.
Pitching has been the backbone of the Tigers' success. Kling kept that pattern intact, throwing a five-hitter with no walks and five strikeouts.
"He had his split finger working down in the zone and he had a really good curveball," Helland said of Kling's mound work.
All four of the Tigers' runs came in the third inning. The bottom of the order started the rally with seniors Drew Momchilovich and Seckora reaching on infield singles.
"We've been getting production from those guys all year," Helland said.
Bradbury singled home the first run. Two more runs scored when Prescott's third baseman couldn't handle Bau's hot smash. Cooper Eckardt singled home the fourth run of the inning.
St. Croix Central
Central played a first inning that was unlike any inning they've played possibly all season. By handing Prescott a six-run lead, it proved too much for the Panthers to recover from, losing 8-3 last Friday.
Prescott only needed one hit to produce the first inning rally. Six walks, a hit batter and an error were packaged with the hit to put Prescott ahead 6-0 before Central had been to bat.
"We need to hit the reset button," Central coach Tom Sauve said. The loss ended a streak of five straight Middle Border Conference wins for the Panthers.
After the rocky start, the Panthers did settle down. Keagen Berg worked three innings of effective relief and Mason Dado worked the final four innings, allowing one run while striking out seven.
Central scored single runs in the third, fifth and sixth innings.
Central outhit Prescott 9-5. Dado, Derek Myer and Zac Holme all had two hits for the Panthers. Central resumes its schedule on Tuesday with a game at New Richmond.
The Panthers were 7-1 in the past three weeks after winning at Baldwin-Woodville 5-2 on Tuesday.
In this rivalry, there's plenty at stake. The Panther coaches reminded the players of that before the game and the players responded right away, producing two runs in the first inning. Singles by Keagen Berg and Wyatt Sundby started the game and they both scored on B-W throwing errors.
B-W got one run back in the third inning when the Panthers had a couple defensive miscues. Trevor Miller knocked in Nate Berends in the fourth inning to put Central's lead back at two runs. The Panthers added two insurance runs in the seventh, with Berg and Sundby doing the honors again. They both scored on a double by Zac Holme.
Central's pitching was handled by Miller and Dado. Miller worked the first four and one-third innings with Dado finishing the game.
"Watching those two pitch made me excited for next year," said Sauve, because Miller is a junior and Dado is a sophomore.
Central is now alone in second place in the MBC standings, as the only team that has a chance of catching New Richmond.
"They're starting to believe they're a legitimate team," Sauve said.
Sometimes you can do everything right and still not win. That was the case for the Somerset baseball team Thursday. The Spartans and Bloomer battled into extra innings, with the Blackhawks winning 3-2.
The Spartans didn't commit an error and pitcher Jack Branch didn't allow a walk in the game. Branch pitched the complete game, with Bloomer getting the winning run on a bases-loaded single in the eighth inning.
"It was great to watch Jack throw the best game he's thrown for us so far," said Somerset coach Zac Eichten.
The Spartans scored once in the third inning, when Jack Gazdik singled home AJ Beasley. Beasley scored again in the top of the sixth, but Bloomer tied the score in the bottom of the inning.
There was no report received on Somerset's game Friday at Baldwin-Woodville.
The Spartans got healthy in a hurry, defeating Ellsworth 12-1 in the first game at Larry Forrest Park last Tuesday. The Spartans sprang to a 6-0 lead early in the second game and maintained the lead to win 7-4.
An outstanding pitching showing from senior AJ Beasley carried the Spartans in the opening game. He threw a five-inning, two-hit shutout. He didn't walk a batter and he only needed 54 pitches to complete the game.
Gazdik led the attack with a pair of doubles, driving home four runs. Andre Beasley and Jimmy Siggens also produced two hits.
One of the noticeable differences between the 2018 and 2019 Spartans is the defensive work at catcher. Eichten said Andre Beasley and Riley McGurran are the reasons why.
"We can throw both of them back there and they both produce offensively and defensively. Both those guys are learning to be good defensive catchers," Eichten said.
Aaron Shartin-Folkert started the second game, working five and two-thirds innings. Branch came in to get the final four outs.
Eichten said the Spartans are concentrating on limiting walks and errors. They had two total errors and two walks over the 12 innings played and they only needed 134 pitches to complete the two wins.
Shartin-Folkert, Gazdik and Ryan Kelly each had two hits to lead Somerset's production in the second game.
The two wins give Somerset 10 wins for the season. It's the first time Somerset reached double digits in wins since the 2015 season when the Spartans finished 12-13.
WIAA baseball seeding
New Richmond received the second seed in the WIAA Division 2 regional tournament bracket in seeding that was completed Sunday night.
The New Richmond baseball team has received the second seed in the bracket, with Big Rivers Conference leader River Falls receiving the top seed. The first round of WIAA regional play will take place on Thursday, May 23.
New Richmond will host Somerset, the seventh seed in the opening round of regionals. St. Croix Central received the fourth seed in the bracket. The Panthers will host Altoona, the fifth seed, on May 23.