The final night of Middle Border Conference baseball action saw plenty of good news for the New Richmond and St. Croix Central teams on Monday.
New Richmond finished off its fourth straight MBC championship with a 2-0 win at New Richmond's Citizens Field. The Tigers finish the conference season 14-0 and have now won 31 straight MBC games.
St. Croix Central locked up second place in the MBC standings, the Panthers' best finish since moving to the conference. Central did this by sweeping a pair of games at Osceola, giving the Panthers a 9-5 MBC record.
As the Tigers prepare for the start of the WIAA Division 2 tournaments on Thursday, they are counting on pitching and defense to be the backbone of their postseason success. That certainly was the case on Monday.
The Tigers were limited to four hits, but Tiger pitchers Ryan Kling and Reece Lucas combined on a two-hit shutout as the Tigers defeated Ellsworth, 2-0.
Kling has been the premier pitcher in the MBC this season and that carried through to the end. He now has a 9-1 record, his ERA stands at 0.83 and is averaging a strikeout per inning.
"Ryan pitched awesome," said Tiger coach Travis Helland.
Lucas worked the ninth inning to earn the save.
The Tigers played errorless ball to support the effective pitching.
Ellsworth also got solid pitching, limiting the Tigers to four hits. The Tigers scored in the opening inning when Hayden Bradbury led off with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Talon Seckora's single.
The next Tiger run came in the third inning. Jack Bau reached on a two-out error, stole second base and scored when Cooper Eckardt reached on an error.
Helland said the team never talked about completing an unbeaten MBC season. He said the success is a product of the team's drive to win every game.
"The focus has always been the day-to-day grind. It takes a full team to do that. It's something to be proud of," Helland said.
SCC spells success
Central's double-header sweep at Osceola came on scores of 2-0 and 4-1. The Panthers had sensational pitching, allowing two hits over the 10 innings of the two games. The two wins gave the Panthers a 9-5 MBC record, the best mark for the team in its four years since moving from the Dunn-St. Croix Conference.
The Panthers allowed Osceola one hit in each game. Mason Dado and Derek Myer combined for a one-hitter in the opening game. Dado struck out eight batters in the 11 outs he recorded. His exploits weren't done when he left the mound.
Osceola loaded the bases in the fourth inning, and Dado saved the game by making a diving two-out catch.
"He webbed it perfectly, he slid on his belly 10 feet," said Central coach Tom Sauve. "He probably saved three runs. That was really deflating for Osceola and it reinvigorated us."
Keagen Berg led off the game with a single and he scored on Zac Holme's single to give the Panthers an early lead. The Panthers scored again in the fourth on singles from Myer and Trevor Miller.
Myer continued pitching to start the second game. He and Miller combined on the second one-hitter of the day. The Panthers took charge with three runs in the second inning, scored on three straight doubles from Holme, Dado and Miller. Spencer Trainor singled home the third run of the inning.
Sauve said pitching and defense have been areas of concentration for the Panthers in recent weeks. They are hoping it leads to postseason success. Central opens Division 2 regional play on Thursday, hosting Altoona at 5 p.m.
New Richmond's busy week
The last four games for the Tigers have all come against teams within the Division 2 regional bracket. The Tigers hosted Menomonie on Friday, losing 8-5 to drop to 16-7 for the season.
Three of those four games last week came against teams in the Tigers' half of the regional bracket. That has led to some challenging handling of the pitching staff for the Tiger coaching staff. The coaches didn't want any of their possible tournament opponents to face top pitchers Kling and Charlie Thibodeau. This turned out to be a chance for the depth in the team's pitching to show. Senior Cole Eastep got two of the starts, including Friday's game against Menomonie. He worked 4 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs.
"Every guy we run out there, we have supreme confidence in our guys to get the job done," Helland said of the team's pitching depth.
James Schutte allowed two runs, neither earned, in the final 2 1/3 innings of work. The Tigers had five errors Friday.
"We did enough offensively and pitching to win. We didn't get enough done defensively. We made a lot of costly mistakes," Helland said.
The big hit of the day for the Tigers was a two-run single from senior Talon Seckora in the second inning that briefly tied the score. Brandon Gaspord also drove home two runs and Bau produced two of the Tigers' five hits.
On Tuesday, the Tigers faced their nearest competition in the Middle Border Conference standings, St. Croix Central. The Tigers put on an absolute hitting clinic, raking Panther pitchers for 14 hits in 25 at-bats in a 12-1 Tiger victory.
The Tigers opened the game with five runs in the first inning and they scored in all four innings they stepped to the plate. The numbers say New Richmond has the best pitching staff in the MBC and Central may be second in that department. Central used all four of its top pitchers, but still the Tigers were able to produce gaudy numbers. Every Tiger starter had at least one hit.
Helland said he didn't think his team started the game with a lot of energy, coming off the River Falls win. He said several of his seniors took it upon themselves to get their team fired up.
The Tigers opened the first inning with five straight hits. Bradbury and Bau had doubles in that outburst and Thibodeau, Eckardt and Lucas all had singles.
Kling showed why the Tiger pitching staff is considered the best in the conference. Kling limited the Panthers to two hits while improving his season record to 8-1. Central's only run came in the fourth inning. Derek Myer was hit by a pitch and he scored on Zac Holme's double.
Central coach Tom Sauve said the credit should go to New Richmond's hitters.
"They hit the ball hard, per usual," Sauve said.
St. Croix Central vs. state champs
There were no complaints from the St. Croix Central coaches after the Panthers lost to defending WIAA Division 3 state champion Webster on Friday, 4-0.
Webster, which is coached by former major league pitcher Jarrod Washburn, features two of his sons. The Tigers are 23-0.
Sauve sounded quite pleased with the Panthers' performance. He said Miller and Dado both pitched well against the hard-hitting Webster lineup. The biggest problem for the Panthers was the younger of the Washburn brothers, Owen. He pounded a two-run homer that hit the Webster school that sits beyond the outfield wall in the first inning. He did the same thing in the third inning on a solo shot.
Zac Holme had the Panthers' only hit as they faced one of Webster's top pitchers, Hunter Rosenbaum.
"It's pretty fair to say he's the best pitcher we've seen this year," Sauve said.
After a humiliating loss against New Richmond on Tuesday, the Panthers needed someone to step up and turn the team back in the right direction. That someone was senior Derek Myer. Myer threw a two-hit shutout in leading the Panthers to a 10-0 win over Amery.
Sauve said Myer had excellent support whenever Amery got someone on base. That started in the first inning when Amery's Brett Forrest singled and tried to steal second. Central catcher Zac Holme threw out Forrest at second base, with Luke Holme applying the tag.
Sauve said Miller also had an excellent defensive game, Miller started a double play in the fourth inning, catching a short pop fly and in one motion, firing to first base to double off a baserunner.
The top of the batting order for the Panthers was outstanding. Keagen Berg, Wyatt Sundby and Myer combined to get on base in 10 of their 12 plate appearances. Sundby had three hits, Berg walked three times and Myer had two hits and two walks.
Miller and Mason Dado also had two hits in the win.
Tigers, Spartans clash
When the New Richmond and Somerset baseball teams met Thursday, it was clear the upcoming WIAA playoff game between these rivals was more on the minds of the opposing coaches than the current game.
Both coaches used the game to get pitchers some needed innings. The teams traded the lead early in the game, but New Richmond took off in the late innings to build up to a 13-5 win.
It was clear from the start that neither team was going to allow their top pitcher to go anywhere near the pitcher's mound. New Richmond had ace pitcher Ryan Kling at third base and Somerset had its ace, AJ Beasley, stationed at shortstop.
Both teams are facing busy schedules so they took different routes to handling their pitching. Lucas was sent to the mound with the plan: finish what you start. Lucas has been struggling a bit with his mechanics and Helland said the best way for Lucas to find his stuff was to keep throwing. After giving up five early runs, Lucas blanked the Spartans over the final four innings.
Somerset sent Jimmy Siggens to the mound, his first time toeing the rubber since a tournament in Mauston in early April.
"We know they are a great fastball hitting team so we tried to throw them off a little," Somerset coach Zac Eichten said of utilizing Siggens' variety of off-speed pitches.
The Tigers touched Siggens for four runs in the opening inning, but he kept the Tigers off the scoreboard the next two innings. After three innings, Somerset led 5-4.
From there, the Tigers began to time Siggens and reliever Jack Branch, scoring nine runs between the fourth and sixth innings.
The Tiger attack was again led by Bau. Bau reached base in all five of his plate appearances. He bashed doubles in his first three at-bats before being walked and hit by a pitch in his final appearances. Bau is hitting .588 in conference games, where he averages two runs and two RBI a game.
Lucas, Thibodeau, Bradbury and Drew Momchilovich all had two hits for the Tigers. Helland said Momchilovich has quietly been having a very productive season. He's hitting .361 and has scored 12 runs in 13 conference games.
Beasley and Jack Gazdik led Somerset with two hits each. Siggens drove home two of the Spartans' runs.
Eichten said he felt the Spartans were much more competitive against the Tigers than when the teams met earlier this season.
"I was encouraged for how we played," Eichten said. "We're a different team. Going into (the playoff game), who knows?"
Altoona is the fifth seed and Somerset the seventh seed in the Division 2 regional bracket. When they met on Friday, they showed that they are pretty evenly matched, with Altoona scoring a 12-8 win.
The Spartans had some defensive issues early, which caused them to get into an early 6-1 hole.
Eichten said the top five batters in the Altoona are all quality hitters. Aaron Shartin-Folkert pitched the first three innings for Somerset, with Will Piletich working three innings and Ryan Kelly one inning in relief.
The Spartans also showed they have some legit hitters, led by senior AJ Beasley, who had a double, triple and scored three runs. Gazdik, Nick Swanson and Siggens each had two hits. Andre Beasley produced the Spartans' biggest hit, a three-run double that cut Altoona's lead to 8-6.
"It was a huge hit for Andre. He smoked the ball over the leftfielder's head," Eichten said. "We hit the ball all day long."
If the Spartans were looking for a signature win, flawless pitching and defense, combined with a couple timely hits, carried the Spartans to a 3-1 homefield victory over Prescott on Tuesday.
Both teams had stellar pitching efforts. AJ Beasley limited Prescott to six hits and did not walk a batter, while striking out five.
"AJ threw his best game I've seen him throw in high school," said Eichten. "All his pitches were working."
Somerset's defense played errorless ball behind Beasley.
Somerset was limited to five hits, but they came in timely situations. Prescott scored its only run in the first inning. Somerset took the lead in the second inning on a two-run single from Siggens. Somerset added an insurance run in the fifth inning when Ryan Kelly singled home Siggens.