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Back on track

River Falls freshman Joe Stoffel follows through on a strike to the plate in his first varsity start against Somerset last Friday at First National Bank of River Falls Field. Stoffel struck out four in five innings to earn his first career victory in the Wildcats' 10-7 win. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Wildcat senior Mason Graetz (7) scores on a passed ball after clearing the bases with a triple in the second inning of the Cats' 10-7 win over Somerset Friday at First National Bank of River Falls Field. Graetz finished with two triples, three RBIs and three runs scored in the game. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

River Falls baseball coach Ryan Bishop admitted the Wildcats were simply over matched in their two lossses to Eau Claire Memorial last week. But he's happy with the way his team responded.

After being swept by the Old Abes, 11-1 Tuesday and 12-0 Thursday, the Wildcats started a new winning streak by beating Somerset, 10-7, Friday night and Centennial (Minn.), 2-0 Saturday.

"Memorial proved why they are a state contender this year," Bishop said. "They flat out beat us in every aspect of the game and played as complete of a couple games as I've seen from a high school team in a while."

The Wildcats totaled five hits in the two losses and went through nine pitchers, some making their varsity debut.

"Their pitchers not only attacked the zone, but they did so with very good stuff," Bishop noted. "Our pitchers consistently threw from behind in the count and Memorial has too good of hitters to not take advantage of that."

The Cats scored their only run of the series in the top of the sixth inning Tuesday in Eau Claire on back-to-back singles by Jaxin Larson and Zach Hadzima on an Old Abe error.

Friday at home against Somerset, the Wildcats brought up freshman Joe Stoffel to make his varsity debut on the mound and he responded by throwing five solid innings to earn his first career victory. Stoffel allowed just two unearned runs on two hits while striking out four.

"Joe did a nice job executing when he needed to," Bishop said. "It's always good to get that first game in and I look forward to watching Joe develop as he matures on the mound."

Mason Graetz went 4-for-4 at the plate with two triples, three RBIs and three runs scored. His bases-clearing triple in the second extended the Wildcat lead to 5-0, and after he scored on a passed ball, Dylan Penny doubled in Mitchell Feyereisen to make it a 7-0 game. Penny finished with two RBIs and Jake Bergmanis added a pair of hits while Hadzima and Feyereisen each scored twice.

"It was good to see our hitters be more aggressive tonight at the plate," Bishop said. "Regardless of the pitcher, you still have to take the same general approach and it was good to see our guys attack fastballs early in the count."

On Saturday, Centennial came to town as the 10th-ranked team in Class 4A in Minnesota, but they couldn't touch Wildcat pitcher Jake Lindsay, who struck out five without a walk in a complete game 2-0 shutout. Lindsay never got to three balls in the count while throwing just 71 pitches in his third complete game win of the season.

"We needed a big outing from Jake today and he delivered," Bishop said. "Not just on the mound, but his outing sparked some great defense and timely hitting as well."

Lindsay drove in the first run of the game when he hit the third of three straight Wildcat singles to plate Ryan Flanagan before scoring himself later in the inning on a passed ball. Graetz contributed a pair of singles in the win.

Centennial had runners at second and third with one out in the top of the second but Lindsay got two strikeouts to end the threat. They put their first two runners on in the fourth but a 6-4-3 double play and a fly out to right preserved the shutout.

"It felt good to get back to playing the game on our terms," Bishop said. "We controlled both sides of the ball and played a complete game from the first pitch to the last."

The 2-2 week moved the Wildcats' record to 9-5 overall, 5-3 in Big Rivers Conference play. Bishop said one common thread in all the Cats' victories this season has been their pitchers attacking the strike zone.

"We saw firsthand this week just how important that is to the flow of the game and the overall confidence of our team," he said.

The Wildcats' game against Park-Cottage Grove this past Monday night was postponed due to lightning before it became official. They hosted East Ridge (Minn.,) Tuesday night and will visit New Richmond on Thursday, May 11, before hosting Tartan on Monday, May 15.

Park, East Ridge and Tartan are all ranked in Minnesota while the Wildcats still have to play top-ranked Eau Claire North and No. 9 Chippewa Falls this season, meaning 10 of their final 13 games will be against teams ranked in the large school divisions in their respective states.

"Our guys will continue to be tested against some of the best teams in Wisconsin and Minnesota," Bishop pointed out. "Our takeaway from this week is that regardless of our opponent, we have to be more consistent in controlling the things we can control. If we can focus more on that and less on the outcome we'll continue to improve and feel good about how we play each game. We got away from that early this week so it was good to see us end the week on a much more positive note."

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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