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Home cooking suits Fish fine

After dropping four straight nonleague games on the road, the River Falls Fighting Fish returned to St. Croix Valley Baseball League action at home over the weekend and swept the Spring Valley Hawks, 6-3, Saturday and 13-3 Sunday.

The weekend home stand, billed as the "Highway 29 Series," featured a youth clinic sponsored by Bo's 'N Mine before Saturday's game and free chicken for fans on Sunday, courtesy of Lazy River Bar and Grill.

While fans feasted on the free fowl, the Fish fed on the Hawk's pitching Sunday. River Falls pounded out 14 hits and scored in every inning except the sixth before closing the game out by virtue of the 10-run mercy rule in the seventh.

Veteran Joel Schaffer led the hit parade, going 4-for-4 with a double, home run, two RBI and two runs scored while Alex Call, Clint Kempf and Adam Stuessel each had two hits and two RBI and newcomer Kyle Westhuis drove in a pair of runs.

Brian Giebel added a run-scoring single in the second and Colin Pechacek contributed a two-run double in the third inning to help the Fish break the game open, while Josh Halling doubled, walked twice and scored three times.

Fish starter Trevor Gutting allowed a single Hawks' run in the second and two in the third before giving up just two hits over three scoreless innings. Greg Cheever pitched a scoreless top of the seventh before the Fish scored a run in the bottom of the inning to close out the 13-3 win.

Saturday Spring Valley jumped on Fish starter Josh Eidem for three runs in the top of the first and had runners in scoring position in the second before Eidem held the Hawks hitless over the final 7 1/3 innings.

River Falls put a run on the board in the bottom of the second when Nathan Brom scored from second base on a base hit by Call. They tied things up in the fourth on a two-run single by Westhuis that plated Stuessel and Giebel.

Westhuis, who finished with two hits and two RBI in the game, is the son of new River Falls utility director Kevin Westhuis. He joined the Fish last week after playing college ball at Eastern Arizona College this spring and with the Thunder Bay Border Cats of the Northwoods League earlier this summer.

River Falls took the lead for good in the bottom of the seventh when Schaffer lead off with a walk and Adam Brathol came in to pinch run. Brathol moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kempf before scoring on a base hit by Pechacek.

Pechacek would later steal second and scored on a single by Brom to increase the Fish lead to 5-3. Call scored on a passed ball in the eighth to make the final 6-3.

The "Highway 29 Series" between the Fish and Hawks had a familiar family affair feeling to it, with faces usually spotted at the same dinner table looking at each other from opposing dugouts.

Fish rookie Josh Halling's father, Brian, was the designated hitter for the Hawks in both games and had two hits over the weekend, including an RBI single in Saturday's game, while River Falls catcher Tyler Hunter's older brother, Zach, started at second base for Spring Valley in both games. Late in Sunday's contest Zach moved behind the plate and caught a foul pop off the bat of his younger brother for an out.

The Fighting Fish, now 13-5 overall, 6-1 and tied for first place in the SCVBL, visit the Osceola Braves Wednesday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m. at Oakey Park and return home Saturday, June 29, host the Minneapolis Angels in a nonleague contest.

Saturday's game is being sponsored by First National Bank of River Falls with free t-shirts handed out to fans while they last. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. and admission is free at the River Falls High School field.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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