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Fish come up empty at WBA Finals

Fighting Fish second baseman Adam Stuessel avoids a sliding Prescott runner after getting a force out at second base in the top of the eighth inning of the Fish’s 1-0 loss to the Pirates Friday night in Osceola. (River Falls Journal photos by Bob Burrows)1 / 2
River Falls first baseman Josh Halling reaches for a low throw in the top of the eighth inning of the Fighting Fish’s 1-0 loss to Prescott Friday night in Osceola. 2 / 2

Some numbers regarding the River Falls Fighting Fish’s Wisconsin Baseball Association state quarterfinal game against the Prescott Pirates last Friday night in Osceola:

1-Total number of runs scored by both teams.

6-Total number of hits by both teams.

17-Total number of strikeouts by both teams.

80-Total combined age of River Falls’ pitcher Tony Garner and catcher Joel Schaffer.

The 43 year-old Garner, who the Fish picked up from the Plum City Blues for their playoff run, struck out 14 Prescott batters and allowed just three hits. But an unearned run for the Pirates in the top of the eighth, and an equally impressive pitching performance by Pirate starter and former St. Paul Saint Mark Moriarty, led to a 1-0 Prescott victory.

“What can you say?” Fish player-coach Josh Eidem said about Garner’s effort. “He was just incredible and deserved to win that game. If we face any other pitcher than Moriarty, he probably does. Our guys have so much respect for him, and he is such a likable guy, that's what they were heartbroken about after the game-- not about the season ending, but about not coming through offensively for Tony.”

The Fish managed just three hits but had runners on base in every inning except the fifth, seventh and ninth. They had runners in scoring position three times, including reaching third base twice and putting runners on first and second with one in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn’t push a run across.

After Prescott cobbled together its only run on a walk, an error and a single in the top of the eighth, Eidem reached on an error with one out in the bottom of the inning and Brian Giebel followed with a walk. After Schaffer flew out to right for the second out, Andy King launched a bomb to the deepest part of the ballpark and the Prescott leftfielder ran it down in front of the 400 foot sign to end the inning.

“That ball Andy King hit goes out of every other ballpark I have ever played in,” Eidem said. “It goes out at Miller Park and Target Field. It goes out at the Metrodome. That was the absolute definition of bad luck.”

Giebel reached base all four times he stepped to the plate-- singling once, reaching on a fielders’ choice and drawing two walks—but never got farther than first base. Adam Stuessel led off the bottom of the third with a single and got as far as third base, and King walked to lead off the fourth and reached third but both were left stranded.

Eidem said Garner, the longtime ace of the Plum City Blues staff—deserved better for his effort. He was pressed into action when the Fish’s two top pitchers—Matt Walker and Rick Wells--  were unavailable. Walker was out with a sore shoulder and Wells had a work commitment.

“Tony was in a tough spot,” Eidem said. “We made the decision to start him as a drafted player and there can be a lot of pressure associated with being that guy. We felt confident in doing that because of his experience-- he's been an incredible pitcher for a long time. I still remember the first time I faced him when I was about 18 and striking out on three pitches.”

Eidem said not many teams can lose the caliber of players the Fish did and still reach the Wisconsin Baseball Association finals.

“We are satisfied that we had a great season and a great run amid the chaos,” he said. “Teams don't lose three or four of their best players and still make the WBA Finals. While it was exciting to have all the signings between Marty (Herum) going to Arizona and Alex (Call) and Kyle (Westhuis) heading off to Ball State and Chico State, and we wouldn't have it any other way, it's tough on a ball club. We didn't have the same starting lineup on back to back days the entire season.”

Eidem credited first year field manager Giebel with keeping the team on course during a turbulent summer.

“It was his job, for the first time, to set those lineups, figure out how we would fill gaps when guys were hurt, or leaving, as well as figuring out how to slide pieces in when Marty and Kyle both joined the team mid-summer,” Eidem said. “Brian did a wonderful job keeping the team stitched together this year. That's a big reason we ended up where we did in August.”

Prescott went on to lose to the Sparta Millers, 4-1, in Saturday’s semifinal. The Brill Millers defeated Sparta, 2-1, in the championship game Sunday.

River Falls ended the season with an overall record of 20-11. 

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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