Legion on a rollercoaster
There's a reason Eau Claire Memorial won the Big Rivers Conference baseball championship this season and Eau Claire North made it to the WIAA State Tournament.
So when you take players from both school districts and put them on the same team for the American Legion season, they present a formidable opponent. But that was of little comfort to River Falls Legion coach Ryan Bishop following his squad's 12-0 loss to Eau Claire Monday night.
"Ninety-five percent of the time an all star team of Eau Claire schools is going to beat you," Bishop said. "But when you play as flat as we did, that number goes up to 100 percent. It's one thing to simply get beat by a better team. But it's another thing when you play as flat as we did and the game ends up a blowout."
The loss soured a six-day stretch that saw River Falls win two games with suicide squeezes in its final at-bat; the second in the nightcap of a doubleheader at Chippewa Falls after it had been beaten 10-2 in the first game.
Two days earlier it defeated Spooner-Hayward-Northwestern (SHN), 5-4, on a suicide squeeze in the bottom of the ninth.
"We saw a lot of ups and downs this past week," Bishop said. "That inconsistency is something that we, no doubt, need to improve on."
The week started out on a high note when Tyler Dusek laid down a perfect bunt to score Austin Johnson with the winning run from third in the bottom of a scheduled nine-inning affair against SHN last Wednesday.
River Falls fell behind 3-0 early before Greg Cheever tripled in Dusek and Trey Peterson in the bottom of the sixth to cut the SHN lead to 3-2. SHN extended its lead to 4-2 in the seventh but Tyler Hunter went deep for a solo home run in the eighth to make it a 4-3 ballgame and set the stage for a dramatic bottom of the ninth.
Curtis Christensen led off the inning with a double and was replaced on the base paths by Nate Soley, but Soley was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a base hit by Zach Lindquist.
Austin Johnson followed with a single to move Lindquist to third, and Lindquist scored to tie the game on a base hit by Jack Herum as Johnson moved to third.
Hunter, who had homered in his previous at-bat, was walked intentionally to load the bases and Dusek followed with a one-out suicide squeeze bunt to bring Johnson home with the winning run.
"A walk-off suicide ranks right up there with a walk-off home run," Bishop said after the game. "They just don't happen very often, and when they do it's pretty exciting to be a part of."
As it turns out, it happened again two nights later, in the second game of a doubleheader at Chippewa Falls. This time River Falls scored two runs in the top of the seventh to pull out a 5-3 victory after dropping the first game, 10-2.
Tied 3-3 going into the seventh, Hunter and Sam Witt led off the top of the inning with back-to-back singles and each moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt by Rickey Troester. Peterson then laid down the suicide squeeze bunt to score Hunter from third, and Witt came all the way around from second on the play on a Chippewa Falls' throwing error.
Hunter had three hits in the win while Witt was 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored and Troester was 2-for-2 with a run batted in.
"It was nice to see the boys respond the way they did in the second game tonight," Bishop said. "We got timely hitting to go along with good defense and pitching. Good things happen when a team does that."
Herum picked up the complete game win on the mound, allowing just one earned run on seven hits while striking out one and walking none.
"Jack pitched a great game tonight," Bishop said. "He got ahead of hitters and threw with confidence."
Cheever threw four innings of relief to earn the win against SHN in River Falls' other victory last week.
"That was a well played game on both sides, with few walks and each team only had one defensive error," Bishop noted. "That's pretty darn good for a nine-inning game."
Mark Bennett had two hits and Peterson had an RBI double in the first game Friday at Chippewa Falls while the locals only managed two hits -- singles by Witt and J.P. Feyereisen -- in their latest loss Monday night at Eau Claire.
River Falls traveled to Menomonie Tuesday night and will host Ellsworth Wednesday at 6 p.m. before traveling to the Winona Tournament this weekend. They return home for another shot at Eau Claire Tuesday, June 30, at 6 p.m.