The 2022 River Falls High School baseball team. Photo courtesy of River Falls High School
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River Falls baseball looking to outperform outside expectations

By Reagan Hoverman

For the second consecutive season, the River Falls High School baseball team is picked to finish in the middle of the Big Rivers Conference stand ings and for the second time in as many years, the Wildcats will look to outperform those prognosticator expectations.

The 2021 season was an eventful campaign for a young River Falls team that was again picked to finish in the middle of the Big Rivers Conference standings. After getting out to a slow start, the Wildcats top pled some of the best teams in the conference en route to a Di

vision 1 Regional Champi onship, which included knocking off the top seeded Hudson Raiders on the road to win that regional title.

With similar expectations – finishing in the middle of the league standings – from out side prognosticators for the 2022 baseball season, the Wildcats are again looking to outperform expectations and establish themselves as one of the best teams in the Big Rivers this season. Wildcats head coach Ryan Bishop spoke about his team and expecta

tions.

“That momentum (of win ning regionals last year) brings a lot of confidence into 2022 for our guys and what they want to accomplish,” Bishop said. “The 2022 Wildcats look to build on the success they ended with last year en route to a WIAA Sectional berth. They will do so by returning the core veteran lineup with an emerg ing pitching staff that started coming into their own as the season progressed last year.”

If River Falls is to have any postseason success this season, a lot of that will rely on the pitching staff, of which Bishop has seen immense growth since that 2021 season ended in the sectional semi final last summer.

“Our pitching depth will definitely be a strong point for us,” Bishop said. “We have some very good top end guys followed by a lot of high qual ity pitchers that we can roll out to the mound at any time and be competitive.”

There have been a few standout pitchers that have es tablished themselves as the cream of the crop for the Wild cats’ pitching staff.

“Keenan Mork, Eli Condon, Teddy Norman and Jack Gehl return after being our top four pitchers last year,” Bishop said. “They will be joined by a handful of additional arms that will all see quality innings at important times in our season.”

Mork is the bonafide ace of the River Falls pitching staff. His 2021 accolades include being selected to the Big Rivers All Conference list, tal lying seven wins in his eight starts on the mound, and hav ing a solid offseason heading into his junior season.

“Keenan (Mork) has the ability and the confidence to be one of the best arms around,” Bishop said. “He continues to learn the mental and emotional side of pitching, and we can’t wait to see him continue to ma ture on the mound.”

While the pitching staff will be important for any success in the 2022 season, the Wildcats will also have to be disciplined in their approach at the plate against several top tier arms in the Big Rivers. According to Bishop, there are a lot of pitch ers in the conference who could play at the collegiate level.

“We have good hitters, but in a league filled with quality pitching, it often comes down to more than just swinging the bat,” Bishop said. “We need to continue getting better with our situational hitting, bunting and running the bases with intent to put pressure on our oppo nents.”

After a successful run deep into the postseason last season, River Falls graduated several talented players including Jaden Schwantz, Sam Cleve

land and all conference in fielder Michael Krueger. Bishop spoke about their de parture and how it changes the team.

“No questions we will miss those guys, but we also know their departure opens doors and creates opportunities for re turning guys to step up,” Bishop said. “We started see

ing some of that in last sum mer’s run through the American Legion State Tour nament.”

With less than one month remaining in the regular sea

son, River Falls is in a three way tie for second place in the Big Rivers Conference stand ings. Eau Claire North leads the way with a 7 2 record in league play, followed by Hud son, Chippewa Falls and Rivers Falls all tied for second.

When the season began, Bishop spoke about the confer ence, how competitive it is and what can be expected from his team throughout the tough BRC schedule this season.

“Hudson won the BRC last year and is predicted to be very good again this year,” Bishop said. “Both Eau Claire schools are once again picked atop a very good BRC this year. We are predicted somewhere in the middle of the pack. We like being picked a little lower than we expect of ourselves. Predic tions are nothing more than something to talk about. There is a reason we play the game, and our team will be ready to compete regardless of our op

ponent.”

River Falls has six confer ence games remaining before the postseason begins. The two contests against Eau Claire North will be critical on Tues day, May 10, and Thursday, May 12. Those games could be the difference between com

peting for a conference cham pionship and finishing in the middle of the pack.

After tough competition against Eau Claire North, River Falls finishes off the conference schedule with sea son series against Menomonie and Chippewa Falls in the last two weeks of May.

The games against Eau Claire on Tuesday, May 10, and Thursday, May 12, will be played at home and on the road respectively. Both contests are slated to begin at 5 p.m.

May 10, 2022