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Legion still learning early

River Falls Post 121 pitcher Andrew Bevens fires a pitch to the plate in the second inning of Post 121’s 6-0 victory over New Richmond Wednesday, June 19, at First National Bank of River Falls Field. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
River Falls’ Michael Krueger gets safely back to first as New Richmond’s first baseman snags the high throw in Post 121’s 6-0 victory over Post 80 in an American Legion baseball game at First National Bank of River Falls Field Wednesday, June 19. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
River Falls’ James Westhoff scores on a sacrifice fly by Joe Stoffel as Michael Krueger slides safely into third base during Post 212’s four-run third inning in their 6-0 win over New Richmond Wednesday, June 19, at First National Bank of River Falls Field. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

So far, Post 121 baseball coach Ryan Bishop describes the first two weeks as a "learning start" to the legion season.

Post 121 is 4-2 after a 5-3 loss to Fond du Lac in the first game of the Falls Classic Friday night, June 21, at First National Bank of River Falls Field. That comes after winning two of three games earlier in the week. Bishop said the defending Class AA state champs are still finding out how good they can be this season.

"There are a lot of new faces and everyone is trying to learn about each other as teammates, both on and off the field," Bishop said. "That's one of the biggest curves of legion ball when you graduate a lot of seniors. But it's also one of the most rewarding aspects as well, to watch the players start coming together and playing for each other."

Friday's loss to Fond du Lac, who lost to Eau Claire North in this year's Division 1 WIAA state semifinals, featured six errors by the home team. But Bishop said that was not indicative of the type of game it was.

"When you think of having six errors in one game you think of a very sloppy baseball game but it wasn't," he said. "There were a lot of tough plays that just didn't get made. And to beat a high level team you simply have to make the tough plays."

Fond du Lac's first three runs were all unearned before River Falls tied it with three runs in the bottom of the third. James Westhoff led off the inning with a single and Jaden Schwantz and Michael Krueger both walked to load the bases. Westhoff scored on a wild pitch before Schwantz and Krueger came around on a one-out single by Joe Stoffel to knot things up. But Fond du Lac took the lead for good with a run in the fifth and tacked on another in the seventh to make the final 5-3.

Schwantz was tagged with the loss on the mound, allowing five runs, two earned, on five hits with five strikeouts and four walks in 6 2/3 innings. Westhoff had two hits in the loss while Adam Feyereisen tripled and Cole Evavold had a double.

"Although the scoreboard didn't end in our favor, it was a good baseball game against a very good team," Bishop said. "There were some high level plays in the field, and both teams had some clutch hitting against two solid pitchers."

Earlier in the week Red Wing got some revenge on Post 121 with a 2-0 victory in Red Wing Monday, June 17, to hand River Falls its first loss of the season. River Falls had beaten Red Wing 14-1 five days earlier in River Falls.

Post 121 got back on track with back-to-back 6-0 victories over Inver Grove Heights Tuesday, June 18, and New Richmond Wednesday, June 19.

Bishop said he gave many of Post 121's returning players off in Monday night's game at Red Wing, and despite the outcome on the scoreboard saw some of the junior legion call-ups.

"It was good to see what the young guys can do," he said. "Not just on the field, but how they carry themselves in a varsity atmosphere against a good pitcher. As expected, we had our share of learning moments, but also saw some things we look forward to building on the next couple years."

Kyle Thompson and Austin Mueller held Red Wing to just four hits but River Falls managed just three hits of its own in its first loss.

Thompson allowed just one hit and one earned run over the first three innings while walking three and striking out three. Mueller worked the final three innings and gave up one earned run on three hits with one walk and one strikeout.

River Falls' was held hitless through the first 4 1/3 innings until Jake Rivard laced a one out single following a walk to Connor Cardell but neither runner was able to advance.

Schwantz drilled a one-out triple in the sixth inning and Ragan Pinnow followed with a walk but River Falls came up empty again. Westhoff had the only other hit, a two-out single in the seventh.

Tuesday night Stoffel and Charlie Griffin combined for a two-hit shutout and Evavold, Jake Bergmanis and Feyereisen each doubled and drove in a run in a 6-0 victory over Inver Grove Heights.

Stoffel worked the first five innings, allowing both Inver Grove Heights hits while striking out eight and walking two before Griffin struck out five and walked one in two hitless innings of relief.

Feyereisen and Bergmanis both doubled in runs during a three-run first inning for River Falls while Evavold had an RBI double in the fifth. River Falls' final run came unearned in the sixth when Krueger reached on an error and later scored on the back end of a double steal.

Post 121 picked up its second straight 6-0 victory Wednesday night over New Richmond behind six innings of shutout ball from pitcher Andrew Bevens.

Feyereisen got things going with a solo home run in the bottom of the first and broke it open with four runs in the third, highlighted by an RBI sac fly by Stoffel and an RBI single from Bergmanis. Cardell singled and came around to score on a sac fly by Krueger in the fourth for River Falls' final run of the game.

Bevens allowed just four hits in six innings while striking out five and walking two before Evavold retired New Richmond in order in the seventh.

"Joe and Andrew picked up where they left off the spring season, attacking the zone and letting a good defense work behind them," Bishop said about the two wins.

River Falls continued play at their Falls Classic Tournament last weekend against Hudson Saturday night, June 22, and Minnesota Class AAAA state high school champion East Ridge Sunday, June 23. They'll host Faribault Wednesday, June 26, at 5 p.m. before competing in the Chippewa Falls Tournament Friday through Sunday, June 28-30.

Bishop said he hopes the team can continue to build on a busy last week.

"It was another week of mixed play, some wins and some things to build from," he said. "As expected our pitching has given us a chance every game. Our defense for the most part is steady. Our offense is a work in progress as some guys are facing varsity pitching for the first time. Our line-up will continue to improve every time we see high level pitching."

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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