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Fish in first at halfway point

Tyler Hunter strokes a double to lead off the third inning in the River Falls Fighting Fish's 3-2 victory over the Bay City Bombers Saturday at the high school field. Hunter later scored on a base hit by Marty Herum for the Fish's first run of the game. Bob Burrows photo

The River Falls Fighting Fish solidified their grip on first place in the North Division of the St. Croix Valley Baseball League last week by going 2-1 in league play, including a big 9-2 victory over division rival Osceola on Sunday.

At the halfway point of the season, the Fish lead the North Division with a league record of 5-1. Menomonie is in second at 5-3, while Osceola and Hudson are each 4-3.

The Fish will host the St. Croix Falls River Bandits (2-4) Saturday before taking on the St. Paul Mudhens in a non-league game at home Sunday.

Saturday's game against St. Croix Falls is Free Hat Day with the first 30 fans in attendance receiving a Fighting Fish souvenir hat, courtesy of Bowen's Garage. Sunday's game against St. Paul is Free Chicken Day, with chicken and chips served while supplies last, courtesy of Lazy River Bar and Grill. Both games start at 1 p.m. at the River Falls High School Field.

The Fish dropped their first SCVBL game of the season at Ellsworth last Wednesday, 13-3, in seven innings. But they bounced back with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Bay City Bombers Saturday before disposing of the Osceola Braves, 9-2, Sunday.

Fish player-manager Josh Eidem said the team has been plagued by injuries lately, but pointed to the two wins over the weekend as good signs.

"Both wins this weekend were absolute team wins, said Eidem, who has been limited to designated hitter duty lately while nursing a sore hamstring.

Saturday against Bay City, Eidem reached on an error with the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth and was replaced on the basepaths by Jason Hunt. Ryan Gilbertson singled up the middle, his fourth hit of the game, to plate Hunt with the go-ahead run.

"When Ryan singled up the middle with two outs, there's no way I would have scored," said a hobbled Eidem. "But Jason was able to score from second to give us the lead.

"Similarly, when Nate Schurman went down injured in the second inning Sunday, we were able to bring Adam Brathol in to play right field and not miss a step," he added. "Justin Peterson, although he didn't get in, gave us another capable stick off the bench if we needed it. Those three guys don't get the accolades, but they are such a big part of our success as a team."

The Fish fell behind Bay City early, 2-0, before fighting back to win behind two RBI from Gilbertson and another from rookie Marty Herum. Pitcher Rick Wells allowed three hits and struck out 11 while walking just one to pick up the complete game win.

"Rick gave us a great start, and that's why teams have a number one pitcher as a stopper when you need it," Eidem said.

Sunday against Osceola, the Fish roughed up All-WIAC pitcher Ross Benitz of UW-La Crosse for 10 hits in 6 2/3 innings on their way to a 9-2 victory. Veteran Joe Paatalo was 3-for-5 with two RBI and Clint Kempf had a pair of hits and three runs scored to lead River Falls. Adam Stuessel also had two hits and drove in a run.

"Kempf is tearing the cover off the ball right now, and Joe Paatalo is swinging like he's 25 again," Eidem said.

Seth Bugar picked up the complete game victory on the mound, allowing two earned runs on four hits while striking out seven and walking one.

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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