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Cats make it a dozen straight

River Falls third baseman Ragan Pinnow fields a ground ball before throwing to second for a force out in the fifth inning of the Wildcats' 14-4 win over Eau Claire Memorial Thursday, May 9, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 2
River Falls’ second baseman Michael Krueger (13) is knocked off his feet by Eau Claire Memorial’s Jack Fentress (1) while trying to turn a double play in the fifth inning of the Wildcats' 14-4 win over the Old Abes Thursday, May 9, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

The Wildcat baseball team is right where it wants to be at this point of the season.

The Cats have won 12 straight gameS and sit at 12-2 overall, 10-0 and in first place in the Big Rivers Conference, and have earned a No. 1 seed in their WIAA Regional. But before they get too far ahead of themselves they have a pair of crucial games this week against the only other undefeated team in the conference-- Chippewa Falls. The Cardinals are 8-0 in BRC play and still have two games left against Eau Claire North (6-2) in addition to their matchup with River Falls.

"There's no secret this week will decide the conference championship," Wildcat head coach Ryan Bishop said. "Two undefeated teams going at it the last week of the season. That's the way it's supposed to be, and we're excited for the opportunity in front of us against a very good team."

The Cats and Cardinals squared off after press time Tuesday, May 14, in Chippewa Falls and will play Thursday, May 16, at 5 p.m. in River Falls with the conference title on the line.

The Wildcats put themselves in position for their first conference championship since 2015 by sweeping Eau Claire Memorial, 1-0, Tuesday, May 7 at Carson Park in Eau Claire and 14-4 Thursday, May 9, at First National Bank of River Falls Field.

Braden Mork twirled a complete game two-hitter and the Wildcats scratched out the only run of the game despite just two hits themselves in a pitcher's duel of Division I recruits Tuesday in Eau Claire.

Mork, a Bradley University recruit, held the Old Abes to just two hits, including a bunt single, while striking out 12 and walking just one.

"Braden was fun to watch tonight," Bishop said. "His confidence continues to grow with each outing, and he was as consistent as I've ever seen him on the mound."

The Cats didn't fare much better against University of Arkansas commit Vince Trapani. Trapani held the Wildcats hitless until Jake Bergmanis' two-out single in the fourth that led to the only run of the game.

James Westhoff pinch ran for Bergmanis and promptly stole second before moving to third on a passed ball. Mork then drew a walk before Westhoff stole home on the back end of a double steal.

"It was tough going at the plate," Bishop said. "Their pitcher was tough as well. But credit our guys for doing the little things when the opportunity was there. In games like this you might only get one opportunity so you better be ready."

River Falls' only other hit was a bunt single by Michael Krueger in the seventh.

"That was as good a high school game as you'll see given the pitching situation," Bishop said. "Both pitchers were dominant, and you just knew one pitch would potentially decide the game."

Thursday at River Falls, Jaden Schwantz hit a lead-off home run to ignite a five-run first inning and the Wildcats scored five more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to post a 14-4, mercy-rule win over the Old Abes.

"Jaden's lead-off home run set the tone for the game," Bishop said. "We came out swinging and ended it early swinging. Our coaching staff was very proud of the offensive mindset today."

Schwantz drew a bases-loaded walk in the second and had a run-scoring single in the sixth to finish with three RBI in the win while Bergmanis had two hits and two RBI and Mork was 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. Joe Stoffel also had two hits and drove in two runs while Adam Feyereisen singled, doubled and scored twice.

Stoffel allowed 10 Old Abe hits but struck out eight and walked just one to earn the six-inning win on the mound.

"Joe was Joe again and let his defense play behind him," Bishop said. "It is so comforting to pitchers knowing their defense will make plays behind them."

Following this week's home-and-home series with Chippewa Falls the Wildcats will wrap up the regular season with a pair of non-conference games Monday, May 20, at St. Paul Highland Park and Tuesday, May 21, at home against Tartan before opening WIAA regional play as the top seed against No. 8 Ellsworth Thursday, May 23, at First National Bank of River Falls Field.

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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