CHIPPEWA FALLS — For nine innings, the timely hit evaded the Chippewa Falls baseball team.
In a Tuesday meeting with River Falls — a matchup pitting the last two teams with unblemished records in Big Rivers Conference play against one another — the Cardinals couldn’t find a killer hit to swing the game in their favor.
Bases loaded in the fifth and ninth innings. Two runners on base in the first, second and fourth. No matter how many potential runs were waiting on the base paths, Chippewa Falls couldn’t bring them across home plate.
Until Nolan Hutzler decided enough was enough.
The shortstop roped a first-pitch fastball from reliever Andrew Bevens into the left-center gap, bringing Luke Franz in to score for a walk-off 6-5 win in the 10th inning, keeping the Cardinals unbeaten in league play and handing the Wildcats their first loss in Big Rivers play.
“I was looking for a fastball in my spot and I got that, so I dumped it into left field,” Hutzler said.
In his first at-bat against Bevens in the ninth, the right-handed Hutzler rolled over a pitch and chopped it to the third baseman. A simple adjustment made all the difference the second time through — for Hutzler and the Cardinals.
“I was way out in front of it, I was expecting (the pitch) to be a little harder,” he said of his first chance against Bevens. “But I sat back on that fastball (in the 10th) and put it into left field.”
The victory put the Cardinals (13-7, 9-0) alone atop the Big Rivers standings ahead of Thursday’s rematch.
Chippewa Falls needed to rally after falling behind 5-0 in the top of the seventh inning. The Wildcats (12-4, 10-1) scored four in the seventh with the help of a Cardinals error which prolonged the inning and allowed Jaden Schwantz and Michael Krueger to hit back-to-back RBI doubles.
The Cardinals had the response they needed in the bottom of the frame. Luke Schemenauer got Chippewa Falls on the board with an RBI single and Nate Hayes was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to add a second run. Austin Sykora added an RBI single of his own in the next at-bat before River Falls threw the ball away on a potential double-play ball to allow two Cardinals to score and tie the game.
“We’re happy that we won, but it should have never come down to that,” Chippewa Falls coach Mitch Steinmetz said. “We played not very good all game, and we got really lucky.”
The Cardinals’ pitching was never to blame, as starter Griffin Spindler and reliever Leo Burmeister teamed up to only allow one earned run in 10 innings.
Burmeister earned the win with 3.1 innings of scoreless pitching out of the bullpen. Spindler went 6.2 innings and held the Wildcats to one earned run on seven hits and one walk.
“They pitched better than I could have asked,” Steinmetz said. “They’ve been troopers all year. ‘Give me the ball, I’ll go.’ They never let us down.”
The Cardinals appeared to be in great position to win the game in the eighth inning when Matt Pomietlo hit a leadoff single to start the inning and stole second base. But Bevens made a spectacular diving catch of an ensuing bunt attempt, and doubled off the runner to neutralize the threat.
River Falls got four innings from starting pitcher Braden Mork. The NCAA Division I prospect, who plans to pitch at Bradley University, struck out eight but was plagued by six walks that let the Cardinals have chances to get on the board.
It wasn’t until late in the game that Chippewa Falls would capitalize on that kind of opportunity though. The Cardinals left 13 runners on base.
Thursday’s rematch is River Falls’ final Big Rivers game. Chippewa Falls has three games left: one against the Wildcats and two against Eau Claire North.
“We’ve got to get up on (River Falls right away), we can’t mess around in this game,” Hutzler said. “That’s what we’re going to look to do.”
Chippewa Falls 6, River Falls 5
River Falls 000 100 400 0 — 5 8 3
Chi-Hi 000 000 500 1 — 6 9 2
WP: Leo Burmeister (3.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 K, 0 BB). LP: Andrew Bevens (3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 K, 2 BB).
Leading hitters – Chippewa Falls: Luke Schemenauer 3-4 (RBI), Nolan Hutzler 2-6 (RBI). River Falls: Jake Bergmanis 2-4 (2 2B, RBI).
Records: Chippewa Falls 13-7, 9-0; River Falls 12-4, 10-1.