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Fish to open playoffs in Rib Lake

The River Falls Fighting Fish amateur baseball team will make its fifth straight appearance in the Wisconsin Baseball Association Regional Playoffs when they travel to Rib Lake to take on the Jim Falls Sturgeons in a first round game this Saturday, Aug. 10, at noon.

The Fighting Fish, 2011 WBA state champs, drew the No. 2 seed in the four-team bracket after compiling a record of 11-4 in St. Croix Valley Baseball league play, 18-10 overall. Jim Falls, the No. 3 seed, finished tied for fourth in the Chippewa River Baseball League with a mark of 14-8.

The Fish will be without the services of rookie outfielder Alex Call, who was leading the team in hitting with an average of .481 before being called up to play for the Eau Claire Express of the Northwoods League last week. Two weeks ago they lost the services of hard-hitting shortstop Marty Herum when he signed a contract to play pro ball in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

They still have plenty of firepower however, led by veterans Joel Schaffer, Brian Giebel and Clint Kempf.

Schaffer is batting .389 with 19 RBI and is tied with Giebel for the team lead in home runs with five each. Giebel, the only Fish player to start all 28 games this season, is hitting .358 and leads the team in RBI (25), doubles (10) and runs scored (41).

Kempf, who has been limited lately by a sore hamstring, sports an average of .361 with 17 RBI and is expected to return to center field to replace Call.

First-year player Andy King brings a .316 average, four home runs and 19 RBI to the Fish playoff lineup while former Northwoods League player Kyle Westhuis is hitting .305 with one home run and 15 RBI in 14 games with the team.

Former Wildcat Josh Halling has also made an impact in his rookie season, posting a batting average of .299 with three home runs and 17 RBI while veterans Nathan Brom (.264, 17 RBI) and Tyler Hunter (.263, 7 RBI) have contributed key hits.

On the mound the Fish feature a pair of aces in Matt Walker and Rick Wells. Walker is 4-0 with a team-low 1.59 earned run average while lefty Wells is 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA and has struck out a team-high 56 batters in 45 innings pitched.

Trevor Gutting has been the workhorse of the Fighting Fish pitching staff this season, throwing a team-high 60 innings while compiling a record of 4-4 with a 3.60 ERA. Josh Eidem has appeared in 11 games and is 2-0 with a pair of saves while Jack Herum has gone 3-1 in six appearances on the mound. Greg Cheever (1-0, 1 save, 19 innings pitched) gives the Fish another lefty arm on the staff.

Each team in the WBA playoffs is also allowed to pick up one player from another team in their league that did not make the playoffs, and the Fish went out and picked up veteran Plum City Blues player Tony Garner. Garner has been one of the top pitchers in the SCVBL during his 17-year career and also gives the Fish another option as an infielder.

The winner of Saturday's game between the Fighting Fish and Jim Falls will advance to play either the top seed Whittlesey Reds or the fourth-seeded La Crosse 35ers Sunday at noon in Rib Lake.

Regional winners will move on to the WBA State Finals Aug. 16-18 in Osceola.

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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