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Fish wrap up division title

River Falls third baseman Nathan Brom, left, and pitcher Dan Morgan celebrate after the Fighting Fish clinched the St. Croix Valley Baseball League's North Division title by beating the Plum City Blues, 13-5, Sunday at the high school field. Brom had three hits while Morgan struck out 10 to earn the complete game victory. Bob Burrows photo

In the bottom of the first inning in Sunday's St. Croix Valley Baseball League finale between the River Falls Fighting Fish and the Plum City Blues, Plum City ace Tony Garner struck out River Falls' No. 3 hitter Brian Giebel with a wicked changeup.

"What the heck kind of pitch was that?" Fish rookie Tyler Hunter exclaimed from the dugout.

"That's called a changeup," Giebel responded.

"Man, that was ridiculous!" Hunter said to the amusement of his teammates.

Garner worked his magic over the Fish batters through three innings as the Blues built a 5-0 lead. But when it came time for the second time around the batting order, the Fish figured out the Blues' veteran and erupted for eight runs in the fourth on their way to a 13-5 victory that gave them the SCVBL North Division championship.

"That was pretty funny stuff," Fish player-manager Josh Eidem said about Hunter's comments. "We stay loose, we don't panic, and sure enough we come up with the big inning off one of the best pitchers you could possible face."

The win was the Fish's sixth straight and left them with a record of 12-4 in the SCVBL, tied with Hudson. But Rivers Falls' 7-3 interdivision record, coupled with a sweep of Hudson in their two regular season meetings, gave the Fighting Fish the North Division crown in just their second season in River Falls.

"Obviously, we're pretty happy," Eidem said. "Especially considering the strength of the North Division. Looking at the standings, four of the six playoff-bound teams from the SCVBL are coming from the north this season."

The Fish, along with Hudson, Menomonie (9-7) and New Richmond (9-7) will represent the SCVBL North Division in the upcoming Wisconsin Baseball Association playoffs while South Division champ Prescott (13-3) and Ellsworth (9-7) round out the league's postseason qualifiers. Pairings and sites for the WBA semifinals, which will be held Aug. 7-9, will be announced Wednesday. Possible sites include Rib Lake, Abbotsford, Chippewa Falls and Ellsworth.

"We're very confident heading into the playoffs," Eidem said. "Now the trick will be to stay sharp over the next couple of weeks."

Eidem said the team is a little banged up so will take this week off before playing a pair of tune-up games against Prescott at Plum City Saturday at 10 a.m. and Tuesday against Hudson at 7:30 p.m. in Hager City.

The Fish clinched the North Division crown thanks to a pair of strong pitching performances from starters Rick Wells on Saturday and Dan Morgan Sunday.

Wels allowed a lead-off single Saturday against New Richmond before holding the Millers hitless the rest of the way in the Fish's 10-0, seven inning win. He struck out 10 and didn't walk a batter.

Joe Paatalo swung the big bat for River Falls, finishing with two hits and four RBI, while Giebel added two hits and two RBI and Clint Kempf had a hit and two RBI. Ryan Gilbertson had two hits and scored three runs in the win.

Sunday against Plum City, Gilbertson smacked a three-run home run to highlight an eight-run fourth inning as the Fish battled back from a 5-0 deficit to defeat the Blues, 13-5.

Morgan struck out 10 and walked one while allowing eight hits, but didn't allow a run over the final six innings to earn the complete game win.

Gilbertson finished with four RBI while Eidem and Brom had three hits and an RBI each and Giebel, Kempf and Dan Kretovics each had two hits and an RBI.

Eidem said the team has had a lot of fun during its six-game winning streak to end the season.

"A few weeks ago when I was catching, it was around the third or fourth inning and the umpire says to me, 'You know, it looks like you guys really enjoy playing together,'" the player-manager said. "That's completely true, and that goes a long way towards success too. Every day we spend in the dugout is an absolute riot, and we really do just have that team chemistry going on that keeps us all in stitches."

Just ask the rookie Hunter.