WIAA Baseball: Tigers, Panthers win close games to advance
The ability to win close games, whether they were offensive or defensive battles, is what carried the New Richmond and St. Croix Central baseball teams to victories in the opening round of WIAA Division 2 regional tournament play on Thursday. New Richmond rode the superb pitching of senior Ryan Kling to a 2-0 victory over Somerset. St. Croix Central was carried by the sensational hitting of senior Derek Myer in an 8-6 win over Altoona.
This game featured a battle of two of the premier pitchers in the Middle Border Conference and they both lived up to that billing as Kling and Somerset’s AJ Beasley both pitched strong games. Kling limited Somerset to two hits and New Richmond was only able to get four hits off Beasley.
The only runs of the game were scored by the Tigers in the third inning. Drew Momchilovich reached on a passed ball on a third strike. He moved to second on a wild pitch and stole third bae. Talon Seckora then laid down a suicide squeeze bunt that gave Momchilovich ample time to score. The inning continued when Jack Bau reached on an infield single and stole second base. Bau scored when Cooper Eckardt laced a single to rightfield.
That was the only major scoring chance either team had. Somerset got runners as far as second base in the first inning. Kling got better as the game rolled on, retiring the final 13 Somerset batters he faced. Somerset only had one baserunner in the final six innings.
New Richmond got runners to third base in the fifth inning, but they were stranded there as Beasley toughened when challenged. Beasley struck out 10 Tigers, including the final three batters he faced in his high school career.
Seckora played a pivotal role for the Tigers. Recently moved to the second spot in the batting order, he understands his role is to help get runners into scoring position. His first two plate appearances resulted in sacrifice bunts. He got to swing away in his third at-bat, producing the only extra-base hit of the game with a double down the rightfield line.
Seckora said the team knew this was going to be a close game and it needed to execute well in all facets of the game.
“Our defense was on top of things and Ryan pitched amazing,” Seckora said.
The Tigers host Menomonie next Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Citizens Field in the second round of regionals. New Richmond is the second seed and Menomonie the third seed in the region. Seckora said the Tigers will bring the same confidence into that game.
“We’re going to come out with the same energy and kick some butt,” he said.
Tiger coach Travis Helland said Thursday’s game was exactly what he expected, knowing the quality of the two pitchers involved. He said the Tigers needed to make the most of their chances, which led to Seckora’s bunts and the Tigers stealing three bases.
“Defense and pitching, that’s what playoff baseball is. That’s what we did tonight,” Helland said.
Altoona scored four runs in the top of the first inning, but Central’s baseball team doesn’t give up, and that showed as the Panthers had to come back twice to win Thursday’s game.
Altoona came into the game with a reputation as a big-hitting club and that was shown right away. The Rails’ cleanup hitter bashed a three-run homer as part of Altoona’s first inning burst.
The Panthers answered back with a two-out rally in the third inning. It started with a walk to Keagen Berg and a single by Wyatt Sundby. Myer then launched the first of his homers, a three-run dinger over the centerfield fence. The fireworks weren’t over. Zac Holme followed with another homer to centerfield, tying the score at 4-4.
Central coach Tom Sauve said Holme’s major improvement is a reason why teams are forced to pitch to Myer. Holme now has 26 RBI this season and he’s driven home at least one run in nine of the past 10 games.
Altoona scored twice in the fourth inning to move ahead 6-4. The Panthers wasted no time getting two runs back. Nate Berends reached on an error and Berg singled. The Panthers then attempted a double steal and the throw to second base flew into centerfield, giving Berg time to scoot to third base. Berg scored on Myer’s single.
Myer took the mound in the fifth and was dominant. He struck out six while shutting down the Altoona attack in the final three innings.
Myer had one more bit of magic in his bag of tricks. With Berg perched on first, Myer hit his second homer of the game, this time to leftfield, to put the Panthers in front for good in the sixth inning, 8-6. Myer finished the game with six RBI, including driving home Berg three times.
“He played well in all facets of the game,” Sauve said of Myer. “When he’s locked in, he’s fun to watch.”
The win moves the Panthers into next Tuesday’s regional semifinals, when they will play at top-seeded River Falls. Sauve said the Panthers have high respect for the Wildcats, but the Panthers will bring the best they’ve got.
“We’ll go down there and do what we can. We’ve put up runs all year long,” Sauve said.