Legion wins first-ever state tournament game
The River Falls Fletcher-Pechacek Post 121 American Legion baseball team accomplished one milestone at last weekend's Wisconsin Legion AA State Tournament, but it couldn't get past the two teams that will square off this week for the state title.
The local legion team won its first state tournament game in program history, a 4-0 victory over Milton in the tourney opener, before losing to Rhinelander, 5-2, and Kimberly, 11-1. Kimberly is the No. 1 ranked team in the state and the defending state champions and will face Rhinelander in the state championship game Tuesday night in Merrill.
River Falls went two-and-out in its only other Wisconsin American Legion AA State Tournament appearance in 2004. This year, behind a one-hit, complete-game shutout by pitcher JP Feyereisen, it picked up its first-ever state tournament victory.
Facing an all-state pitcher who took his Milton High School team to a sectional final this spring, River Falls finally broke the scoreless pitchers' duel with a successful suicide squeeze in the fourth.
Feyereisen helped his own cause with a single, stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Colin Pechacek. Alex Call then laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt as Feyereisen broke for home to give River Falls a 1-0 lead.
Marty Herum, who will play in the Wisconsin American Legion All-Star Game at Miller Park this Sunday, provided some breathing room with a two-run home run in the fifth, part of a three-run River Falls inning that made the final 4-0.
"We knew we were going to have to capitalize on the opportunities we got," River Falls coach Ryan Bishop said. "The way both pitchers were throwing, we knew one run could win this game. The suicide squeeze did just that, and Marty's home run pretty much ended any hope they had."
Feyereisen struck out 10 Milton batters and walked three while allowing just one hit.
"We needed a big game from JP and he threw as well as I've ever seen him throw," Bishop said. "He dominated their lineup from the first pitch to the last."
Herum finished with two hits in the win while Feyereisen and Pechacek had the only other River Falls' hits in the game.
Against Rhinelander, River Falls found itself in a 5-0 hole before scoring a run in the fourth when Pechacek doubled and scored when Jack Herum hit into a fielder's choice. It got another run in the seventh when Nate Soley scored on a sacrifice fly by Marty Herum but the game ended with the tying run at the plate when Feyereisen hit a sharp liner right at the Rhinelander centerfielder.
"We had base runners in every inning while they only had runners in three innings," Bishop noted. "The difference was, they were able to get the timely hits in the few opportunities they had."
In addition to Pechacek's double, Marty Herum, Soley, Call and Austin Johnson each had a single in the game.
Jack Herum took the complete-game loss on the mound, allowing five runs, three earned, on six hits while striking out five and walking two.
"Jack gave us what we needed on the mound; we just couldn't get it done at the plate tonight," Bishop said.
River Falls held top-ranked and defending state champion Kimberly to just two runs through the first four innings before Kimberly struck for five runs in the fifth to take a 7-0 lead. The locals scored their only run in the sixth when Ryan Kusilek doubled and scored when Feyereisen hit into a fielder's choice. Kimberly scored four more in the bottom of the sixth to make the final 11-1.
Feyereisen was 2-for-3 at the plate and Isaac Witt was 2-for-2 as Kimberly outhit River Falls 11-7.
Call took the loss on the mound, allowing seven runs on seven hits while striking out one and walking one in five innings of work. Pechacek was tagged for four runs on four hits in relief.
"Regardless of what the stats say, Alex threw very well for the first five innings," Bishop said. "It was a two-run game and we were outhitting them going into the fifth inning. A good bounce got things rolling for them and it just snowballed from there."
River Falls was ranked in the top 10 in each week's state AA poll this summer, climbing as high as fourth before finishing the year at No. 7. Despite having the youngest team at the state tournament, Bishop said the team had a chance to win every game.
"You get to this point and you need to play your best baseball and catch a few breaks," he said. "We played well but also hit a lot of line drives right at people.
"I'm proud of the effort these guys continued to give, day in and day out, this summer," he added. "Like this past spring, we peaked at the right time and made a good run. The boys have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about."