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Baseball: Fish hooked by Merchants

After defeating the La Crescent Cardinals 6-4, in the opening game of the Wisconsin Baseball Association playoffs in Strum Friday, Aug. 10, the River Falls Fighting Fish and Osseo Merchants were locked in a scoreless tie through six innings in Sunday's second round before the Merchants scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to post a 4-0 victory.

River Falls starter T.J. Wink allowed just two hits through the first six innings before he developed a finger blister in the seventh and the Merchants, champions of the Chippewa River Valley Baseball League, took advantage.

Three Osseo singles loaded the bases with one out when Fish third baseman Brian Grove made a diving stop of a hard smash and threw home late. The ball bounced past catcher Trevor Gutting and got stuck in the backstop, resulting in a dead ball and the runners advancing to give Osseo a second run. The next batter hit a blooper over shortstop Trey Larson's head with the infield drawn in, and just like that it was a 4-0 game.

Ethan Freese replaced Wink and got a strikeout and a groundout to end the seventh and Adam Stuessel and Larson each singled in the top of the eighth before Clint Kempf was hit by a pitch to load the bases with two outs. But Joel Schaffer struck out for the third out of the inning and the Fish went down 1-2-3 in the ninth to end the game.

Larson had two hits in the loss, including a double, and Lucas Luedtke doubled but the only other River Falls hits were singles by Stuessel and Joe Halling as the Fish left eight runners on base.

"Wink threw a great ballgame before running into a finger blister in the seventh," River Falls player-manager Josh Eidem said. "We still almost wiggled out of the inning but Osseo played a perfect game. Kudos to them for sure. That's what makes them one of the top teams in the WBA."

The season-ending loss came after the third-seeded Fish knocked off the second-seeded La Crescent Cardinals, 6-4, in their playoff opener two nights earlier. Grove and Brian Giebel both homered and Weston Lombard went seven strong innings before turning things over to Freese.

Grove homered in the first inning with Giebel on board to give River Falls a 2-0 lead before birthday boy Giebel hit a solo home run in the top of the third. Halling's two-run double in the fourth highlighted a three-run inning to widen the gap to 6-0 before La Crescent got to Lombard for two runs in the fifth and added two more in the eighth off Freese to make the final 6-4.

Lombard allowed six hits and struck out seven in 7 1/3 innings of work while Freese allowed three hits and struck out two to earn the save.

The Fish finished the season with a record of 19-17 overall, 10-6 and North Division champions in the St. Croix Valley Baseball League.

Hudson lone SCVBL team to advance

The Hudson River Rats, who needed to win their final two games of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs with an 8-8 league record, will be the lone SCVBL team in the 8-team WBA finals this weekend, Aug. 17-19, in Osseo.

The fourth-seeded River Rats knocked off the top seeded Marshfield Chapparells 14-8 Saturday, Aug. 11, in Rib Lake and blanked the Lake Superior Sea Dogs, 8-0, Sunday, Aug. 11, to earn their spot in the finals.

SCVBL champion Prescott defeated the Eau Claire Rivermen, 7-3, in the first round before losing to the regional host Haugen Knights, 4-2, to end their season while the Elmwood Expos won their playoff opener, 4-2, over Viroqua before losing to Sparta, 6-4.

Spring Valley dropped a 10-8 decision to the Eau Claire Bears in the first round while Menomonie fell to Tilden, 4-2.

Hudson will be joined in the 8-team WBA finals by host Osseo, Haugen, Sparta, Tilden, Eau Claire, Chaseburg-Coon Valley and Everest.

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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