EDITOR'S NOTE: After knocking off top-ranked and previously undefeated Amherst 2–1 in Wednesday's D3 state semifinal, Cuba City will face #2 seed St. Croix Falls (26–2) today at noon in the D3 state championship game.
MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM GAME OF THE WEEK (June 7–14)
WIAA DIVISION 3 BASEBALL SECTIONAL FINAL: Cuba City 3, Viroqua 2 (9 innings)
By Tom Gunnell, Tri-County Press/Republican Journal
CUBA CITY SLIDES INTO STATE TOURNAMENT
PRAIRIE DU CHIEN — Cuba City second baseman Riley Rosenkranz used all the reach he could muster out of his 6’4” frame to slide in safely for the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Cubans clinched their first state baseball tournament appearance in 67 years with an electrifying 3–2 victory over Viroqua in a WIAA Division 3 sectional final contest held at Prairie du Chien High School on Tuesday, June 7.
“I’m so happy and so proud of these guys for the way they battled here today and for how they have grinded all year long. That’s been kind of our motto, just keep grinding,” said head coach Steve Graber after leading the Cubans back to state for the first time since 1955. “We’re happy to be the second team to go to state. The work they have put in during the off-season, not just this year but throughout the last five or six years, has paid off. Again, I’m so proud of these guys.”
Rosenkranz was hit by a pitch to start the Cubans’ ninth and he moved up to second on an errant pick-off attempt. Junior catcher Reece Rosenkranz laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance his twin brother to third, then freshman Tyson Richard hit a grounder to shortstop to drive in Riley Rosenkranz for the winning run.
The Cubans poured out of the dugout to mob Riley Rosenkranz at the plate, and then Richard was chased into the outfield and piled on by his jubilant, state-bounded teammates.
“Getting Riley on base to start the inning was huge. You can do so much with a guy on third with less that two outs,” Graber pointed out.
It appeared as if the Blackhawks (22–7 overall) were going to run away from the Cubans (21–4) early on after they loaded the bases with no one down in the top of the first inning. However, senior Blake Bussan settled down and got out of the jam without allowing a run thanks to an infield fly, a strikeout and a groundout.
Graber’s crew grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Reese Rosenkranz drove in junior outfielder Max Lucey, who singled to open the inning.
Viroqua answered right back in the top of the third to take a 2–1 lead following back-to-back RBI-doubles by Casey Kowalcyzk and Kamden Oliver.
The Cubans tied the game in the fifth when senior Mason Reese singled and came in to score on an error.
Senior Kobe Vosberg doubled and reached third in the bottom of the seventh, but was stranded there sending the game into extra innings. The Blackhawks put a runner on third in the eighth, however Bussan got out of it with a groundout to short on his final pitch of the day.
Bussan worked an inning of relief in the Cubans’ 4–1 win over Deerfield in the opening game of the sectional, and then started and went eight innings the championship game before reaching his pitch count for the day.
“We’re not surprised by that. Blake has taken then ball at any time this season; big moments, he doesn’t care. He’s going to come in and give us a chance to win, Once again, he did that,” noted Graber.
Reese (3–0) worked around a two-out walk in the top of the ninth to hold the Blackhawks scoreless and pick up the win in relief.
“Mason coming in there was no small feat. He did a nice job by closing that thing out for us,” commented Graber. “We gave ourselves a chance to win all day with our defense and pitching. And, we got some timely hitting, too. That’s what you got to do. We talk about being fundamental as a team and that’s what we were today. What a great day to be fundamental, especially when you know you’re playing two very good teams.”
Kowalcyzk took the loss in relief and he finished 2-for-4 at the plate with a run scored and a RBI to lead the Blackhawks, who defeated Marshall (13–13) by a score of 7–4 to open the day.
The Cubans advanced to the sectional finale by knocking off #10-ranked Deerfield, 4–1, in the other semifinal contest.
Taking advantage of some early defensive miscues, the Cubans scored twice in the top of the first inning to put the Demons (19–6) in a quick hole. Reese reached on a dropped third strike and scored on an error following a base hit by Vosberg, while senior Jackson Soja brought in Vosberg with a sac fly to make it 2–0.
“To come out there and get a two-spot on them in the first inning was huge. It settled our nerves down a little bit,” said Coach Graber.
The score remained stuck there until the sixth when Soja drilled a clutch two-out, two-run double to extend the Cubans’ advantage to 4–0.
“That’s been Jackson all year. He’s come up in big sports and got it done for us,” Graber stated.
The Demons loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh with Notre Dame recruit Cal Fisher– who led the state this spring with nine home runs– coming to the plate. Graber choose to intentional walk Fisher to bring in a run, but the strategy worked as Bussan got the next batter to ground out to third to end the game.
Vosberg (7–1) earned the win after tossing six scoreless innings, yielding two hits and walking three with nine Ks.
Fisher, who had only allowed only three runs and just one earned run in eight appearances on the mound coming into the game, was touched for four runs (two earned) on four hits and a walk by the Cubans. He finished with eight strikeouts.
“We knew how good (Fisher) was and proved how good he was,” said Graber. “(Kobe) went out there and showed what he’s done all season. He was able to settle down and pitch his game. Buss and Kobe did a great job pitching.
The WIAA State Tournament is being held at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute on Wednesday and Thursday, June 15-16.
The #4-seeded Cubans opened the D3 tournament Wednesday with a 2–1 victory over #1-seed Amherst (28–1). #2-seeded Saint Croix Falls (26–2) knocked off the defending D3 state champions from Kenosha St. Joseph’s (#3-ranked, 20–3) in the other semifinal game.
The D3 championship game between Cuba City and St. Croix Falls is slated to start at noon on Thursday.
D3 SECTIONAL FINAL GAME
Viroqua…… 002 000 000 – 2 7 2
Cuba City… 010 010 001 – 3 8 1
Leading Hitters: V– Olson 3x5, Kowalcyzk 2x3. 2B- Oliver, Kowalcyzk, Olson. CC– Kobe Vosberg 3x4. 2B- Vosberg (2).
WP- Mason Reese (1 In, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 0 K). LP- Kowalcyzk (4 In, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 6 K).
D3 SECTIONAL SEMIFINAL GAME
Cuba City… 200 002 0 – 4 4 1
Deerfield…. 000 000 1 – 1 4 1
Leading Hitters: CC– None. D– Staszak 2x3.
WP- Kobe Vosberg (6.0 In, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 9 K). LP- Fisher (7 In, 4 R, 2 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 8 K).
At Prairie du Cien, on Tuesday, June 7