MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM GAME OF THE WEEK (June 14–21)
WIAA DIVISION 3 BASEBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP: Cuba City 8, Saint Croix Falls 4
By Tom Gunnell, Tri-County Press/Republican Journal
CUBANS BRING HOME THE GOLD
GRAND CHUTE – The trophy case at Cuba City High School is filled with gold state championship trophies from many sports, but the Cubans’ baseball program did not have one of their own.
That changed on Thursday afternoon when the #4-seeded Cubans locked down their first-ever WIAA State Baseball Championship by battering #2-seeded and 4th-ranked Saint Croix Falls, 8–4, in the Division 3 title game played at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium on June 16.
The Cubans (23–4) entered the state tournament as the lone unranked team but put together back-to-back gems on the diamond to finish as champions. After knocking off previously unbeaten and #1-ranked Amherst (28–1) to open the state tournament, the Cubans plated eight runs against a mighty Saint Croix Falls (26–3) team who had not been scored upon during their entire tournament run and was coming off an 8–0 drubbing of the defending D3 state champion and #3-ranked Kenosha St. Joseph Lancers (20–3) the day before.
“I’m just so proud of these guys. They put a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of effort in to get us here, so to sit back and see them enjoying it, you can’t describe it with words. I’m so happy for them,” said head coach Steve Graber after leading his Cubans to the state tournament for the first time since 1955. “They love to play for each other. They came together and backed each other up. It was a collective effort. I really believe that that’s how they were able to get this thing done.”
Senior pitcher Blake Bussan, who earned a save in relief after getting the Cubans out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in Wednesday’s 2—1 win over top-ranked Amherst, was strong as the starter on Thursday afternoon, allowing just three earned runs and striking out five over six and two-thirds innings to lead the Cubans to the state title.
“I can’t really describe it. Cuba City has never done this before, so it make it extra special,” remarked Bussan, whose sidearmed delivery and quirky mannerisms on the mound helped keep the Saints’ batters bewildered at the plate. “I was just trying to throw strikes and let them hit it to us. My teammates were behind me helping me.”
First, they helped their pitcher on offense by scoring twice in the top of the first inning to grab an early lead and calm down the butterflies.
Senior Jackson Soja singled home classmates Kobe Vosberg, who doubled, and Carter Olson, who was running for Bussan after he reached on an error, for the first runs scored against the Saints in the post-season.
“We knew that they had not given up a run in the playoffs, so to get the first runs of the game was important. I think it settled us down,” said Soja.
The Saints came up with a run of their own in the bottom of the first on a Brady Belisle RBI single, but the Cubans got a run back in the top of the second when junior outfielder Will Busch singled in senior first baseman Cooper Johnson for a 3–1 lead.
The Saints answered with a run in the second, and then scored twice more in the third to overtake the Cubans, 4–3, on the scoreboard. Oliver Schmidt had a RBI single for SCF, while Belisle ripped a RBI-triple and scored on a sacrifice fly to give his team the lead.
“Give Saint Croix a ton of credit. They came back and answered. You knew it was going to be a dogfight,” said Graber.
Coach Graber’s crew regained the lead with a three-run rally in the top of the fifth inning. Soja drove in senior shortstop Mason Reese with a fielder’s choice to tie the score and junior outfielder Max Lucey followed with a two-run base hit to put the Cubans back in front to stay.
The Cubans tacked on two more insurance runs in the sixth inning to open up an 8-4 advantage. Busch singled and scored on a passed ball and Vosberg drilled his second double of day and scored on Johnston’s bases-loaded walk to put the Cubans ahead by four.
“We knew we were going to have to come in here and score some runs today. We knew what (the Saints) could do,” said Graber. “Blake took the ball and went out there and gave us one heck of a performance. Our defense behind him held up. That’s what we put our hat on, pitching and defense.”
Busch halted a scoring threat with an inning-ending diving catch in the fourth inning, and then he made another spectacular diving catch in the fifth to prevent another run-scoring chance for the Saints.
“I knew I had to take a chance and go for those balls. I just went out and laid my body out, and the ball went into my glove,” Busch related.
Bussan worked his way out of another jam in the sixth, and then recorded a pair of ground ball outs to start the seventh before reaching his pitch limit for the game.
Reese took the mound and got the only batter he faced to ground out to Vosberg at short to kick off the Cubans’ championship celebration.
“It was pretty nerve-wrecking but I’ve been in this situation before so I knew what I had to do. I knew we had it wrapped up right away. (Kobe) was making that play,” said Reese. “It feels great. This is something we worked hard for all our lives. I think it’s crazy. We were the four-seed and not a lot of people expected us to win, but we played fundamental baseball, grinded it out and got the job done.”
Bussan (9–1) got the win after yielding seven hits and walking three with five strikeouts.
At the plate, Vosberg finished 2-for-4 with three runs scored for the Cubans. Soja drove in three runs and Lucey plated two, while Busch added two hits with a RBI and a run. Johnston also had a run and a BI and junior Riley Rosenkranz tallied two hits.
“The seniors are a special group. We’ve had a lot of good class and good players here at Cuba City before us that set the standard, but these guys took it to a different level and they did it the right way,” said Graber. “It’s a fun group. You just can’t wait to get to the ballpark with them because they’re so much fun to be around. They’ll be missed.”
Playing in their final game at Cuba City were seniors Mason Reese, Carter Olson, Cooper Johnston, Blake Bussan, Jackson Soja, Kobe Vosberg and Meyer Fishler.
“It’s kinda sad that it’s over, but it was a great way to finish. It feels great. It’s unreal,” said Soja.
Bussan agreed with his left fielder, “We’ve been playing together our whole lives, so it’s awesome to win it with them.”
With four juniors and two freshmen with starting experience and a junior varsity team that posted a 19–1 record this spring, the Cubans hope they can find a way back to Grand Chute to defend their title next season.
“I love the seniors. It felt great to win the gold for them. They deserve it,” said Busch. “I hope we can repeat this. It was a really special opportunity. I hope we can come back again next year. It should be fun.”
If they do that, then Cuba City might just being known as a baseball town.
“We got a long way to go before you can say we’re a baseball town, but we’ll take this state title and enjoy it,” added Graber.
D3 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Cuba City………. 210 032 0 – 8 10 3
St. Croix Falls… 112 000 0 – 4 7 3
Leading Hitters: CC– Kobe Vosberg 2x4, Riley Rosenkranz 2x4, Will Busch 2x3. 2B– Vosberg 2. SCF– Belisle 2x4. 3B– Belisle. 2B– Scott.
WP- Blake Bussan (6.2 In, 4 R, 3 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 5 K). LP- Smith (5.1 In, 7 R, 6 ER, 9 H, 1 BB, 3 K).
At Fox Cities Stadium, on Thursday, June 16