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WIAA Baseball: Tigers can’t overcome injury and opposing pitching phenom

Tiger shortstop Brandon Gaspord makes a leaping catch on a Tomah stolen base attempt in the first inning of Tuesday's sectional semifinal game. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

Two days before the WIAA sectional tournament, the New Richmond baseball team was thrown a curve they could not have seen coming.

Senior Jack Bau, the Tigers’ leading hitter, was hospitalized for an appendectomy.

Tuesday’s sectional semifinal between the Tigers and Tomah was billed as a battle of two of the best high school pitchers in the northern half of the state. That billing stood true with New Richmond’s Ryan Kling and Tomah’s Ryan Prielipp both pitching exceptional games. But without Bau’s bat in the heart of the Tiger order, the Tigers couldn’t push across any runs, losing to Tomah, 3-0.

This could be the start of a big week for Prielipp. He won the award as the Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin and it’s considered a good chance that he’ll be selected in this week’s Major League Baseball Draft. He’s got a pretty good fallback plan, he’s already committed to play at the University of Alabama.

Let’s start with Bau’s appendix. According to his father, Bau began feeling discomfort in his abdomen Sunday. By midnight, he was being rushed to the hospital, with surgery shortly after. He was able to attend Tuesday’s game, but was moving gingerly.

That sparked a brainstorming session by the Tiger coaches in how to replace Bau. It resulted in a domino effect. Brandon Gaspord was moved from third to shortstop to replace Bau. Cooper Eckardt was shifted from first base to third to replace Gaspord. Designated hitter Fred Riba was moved to first. Leftfielder Drew Momchilovich became the D.H. and courtesy runner Nolan Eckert took over in left.

Tiger coach Travis Helland said the players felt terrible for Bau.

“You really feel for a senior who’s had an all-state type of year,” Helland said. “There are eight seniors and they are tight. They feel for Jack. It killed me inside. He’s one of the better competitors I’ve ever coached.”

While the Tigers made numerous defensive changes, the defense performed well for the most part. The Tigers were credited for three errors, but they came on difficult plays.

“We put our guys in the position for the best chance we had to win,” Helland said of the position changes. “The four guys playing new positions did great jobs.”

Kling and Prielipp matched scoreless innings until the fifth, when Tomah got all three of its runs. Tomah loaded the bases on three singles, with the first run scoring on an error. The fourth single of the inning drove home the final two runs.

Kling dodged danger in each of the first four innings, with Tomah getting at least one runner in each inning. His pitch total was exhausted after the fifth inning. Reece Lucas pitched the final two innings without allowing a runner.

The Tigers were limited to five hits by Prielipp, but they did have scoring chances. Hayden Bradbury led off the first with a walk and moved to third on a stolen base and wild pitch, only to be stranded there. The Tigers had baserunners in each of the first four innings.

Once Tomah got the lead, Prielipp took over. He struck out six straight Tigers. The only Tiger to reach in the final three innings, who tried to keep the team alive with a two-out single in the seventh inning. Prielipp finished the game with 15 strikeouts.

The Tigers finish the season with a 20-8 record. This is the first time in 12 years that they reached sectionals and that they earned 20 wins.

“Our guys played a helluva game,” Helland said. “Ryan pitched a great game. He hit his spots, he did everything we asked. He gave us a chance to win the game.”

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for more than 30 years.

(651) 301-7848
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