Baseball: Cats make a statement
What a difference two days makes.
After being held to one hit in a 6-1 loss to fifth-ranked Eau Claire Memorial Tuesday, May 1, in River Falls, the Wildcats pounded out 10 Thursday, May 3, at Carson Park, including six during a seven-run third inning, to hammer the Old Abes, 11-0, and push ahead of them in the race for the Big Rivers Conference title.
Three of the Wildcats' 10 hits were for extra bases, including a two-run home run by sophomore Joe Stoffel during the seven-run third inning that completely took the wind out of the Old Abes' sails.
"Out hitters were determined to redeem themselves after Tuesday's showing and worked really hard in Wednesday's practice on getting on time with hard fastballs," River Falls' coach Ryan Bishop said. "Not only did they get on time, but they confidently swung the bat all game long and made a statement in the process."
That statement was followed up by a 3-1 extra-inning win at Hudson Friday, May 4 to improve to 5-1 in the BRC, one-half game out of first place in the conference standings behind Eau Claire North. The Cats will host New Richmond in a nonconference game Thursday, May 10, at 4 p.m. before playing a makeup BRC doubleheader against Menomonie Friday, May 11, beginning at 4 p.m. at First National Bank of River Falls Field. They play Chippewa Falls twice (May 15 and May 17) and Eau Claire North twice (May 22 and May 24), before regional play starts Tuesday, May 29.
"We like where we're sitting in conference play right now," Bishop said. "We have a chance to control our own destiny if we take care of business on our end. Of course the nonconference games are still important, but our focus is on the BRC right now and that's where our pitching rotations will be focused on in a season full of backed up make-up games."
The Cats welcomed ace Jake Lindsay back to the mound last Thursday against Eau Claire Memorial and he responded by handcuffing the Old Abe hitters, striking out eight and allowing just two hits, in a five-inning shutout.
"We were back to full strength pitching and Jake delivered as expected," Bishop said. "He mixed and located all of his pitches, making a very good team look uncomfortable all game long at the plate."
The Old Abes sent their Minot State University recruit Austin Selz to the mound and the Wildcats got to him in a seven-run third inning that included back-to-back two-run doubles by Lindsay and Ryan Flanigan and Stoffel's two-run bomb into the Carson Park football field. Memorial brought in highly-touted freshman Vince Trapani in the fifth inning and he was greeted by River Falls' own freshman Jaden Schwantz, who roped the first pitch for a triple.
"Pretty fun to watch two very good young players go at it in a big game with scouts in the stands," Bishop noted. "That doesn't happen very often in the Big Rivers."
Stoffel added a two-run single to finish with four RBI while Adam Feyereisen and Glen Pendleton each doubled to give the Wildcats six extra base hits in the win.
"I couldn't have been more proud of our guys' performance against a very good team on the road," Bishop said. "They answered the challenge after Tuesday's game, and did so convincingly."
Tuesday Nick Speckman had the lone Wildcat hit, a third-inning single, in River Falls' 3-1 loss to Memorial. The Wildcats' lone run came without a hit in the second when Pendleton was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Stoffel, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a sac fly by Joey Davis.
"Their pitcher threw a gem," Bishop said about Memorial senior Jack Brown. "He's a D2 Mankato State recruit for a reason. We knew he throws hard, but we expected to barrel up a few more balls than we did. We only struck out three times, but we were never able to get on top of his fastball. Tip your cap to their pitcher, he just overpowered us with his hard stuff."
Sophomore Austin Muller was called up from the JV to make his first varsity start for the Wildcats and pitched admirably, allowing just two earned runs on three hits with seven strikeouts in 5 1/3-innings of work.
"Tough opponent to make your first varsity start against, but Austin settled in nicely and did everything we could have asked to keep us in position to win," Bishop said. "It was a 2-1 game going into the seventh, but unfortunately that last out was hard to come by and they opened a lead too big to come back from with their ace on the mound."
Hits were hard to come by Friday, May 4 at Hudson with a gusty wind blowing straight in from center field. But Lindsay snapped a 1-1 tie in the top of the ninth with an RBI single and Flanigan followed with an RBI sacrifice fly to give the Cats a 3-1 extra-inning win over the Raiders.
"Anything hit in the air was an out," Bishop said. "You just knew one or two runs could win this thing."
Stoffel worked the first seven innings on the mound and allowed one earned run on three hits with seven strikeouts and four walks before Dylan Penny pinched two scoreless innings to earn the victory.
"Joe had a very good outing and Tyler did a great job shutting the door in extras," Bishop noted. "Our guys battled through a tight game and finally broke through in extras to close out a couple very good BRC wins on back-to-back nights."
The Wildcats played their fourth game of the week during a day-long baseball fest at First National Bank of River Falls Field Saturday, May 5,and dropped a 5-3 nonconference decision to Tartan. Both teams were playing their fourth games in five days and both used four different pitchers out of their bullpens. "Basically anyone who was left that could pitch," Bishop said.
River Falls sent Pendleton, Speckman, Jackson Cleveland and Schwantz to the mound with Pendleton taking the loss. Feyereisen went 3-for-4 with a double to finish the week 7-for-13 at the plate.
"Adam has been swinging the bat with a lot of confidence lately," Bishop said. "He's given us a nice spark in the leadoff spot that's been contagious to the guys behind him."
Lindsay and Flanigan, the Cats' No. 2 and No. 3 hitters, contributed two hits each in the loss.