New Richmond outlasts Chippewa Falls in pitchers duel for first trip to state since 1995

A Big Rivers battle between Sectional 1 No. 4 seed Chippewa Falls and No. 2 New Richmond for a spot in the Division 1 state tournament turned into an all-out pitching duel at Mill Pond Park. The Tigers and Cardinals traded zeros until an infield single for New Richmond’s Kylie Kieffer in the bottom of the sixth inning scored the lone run in the Tigers 1-0 sectional final victory. It’s the first trip to state for New Richmond since 1995.

Chippewa Falls freshman starting pitcher Violet McIlquham had gone toe-to-toe with New Richmond senior Kennedy Joachim for the entire game. McIlquham had worked out of a number of jams throughout the game, including a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the first.

Senior Mimi Brinkman tried to kickstart another rally for New Richmond in the bottom of the sixth, leading off with a single. Brinkman stole second and advanced to third on a Ginger Lucas groundout and Joachim stepped to the dish with one out, looking to decide the pitchers’ duel outcome herself.

McIlquham fell behind early in the count, but battled back to strike Joachim out looking. The freshman was on the verge of escaping yet another jam with Kieffer at the dish, but the New Richmond senior delivered a hard ground ball towards left field.

Chippewa Falls shortstop Makenna Johnston made a diving snare of the ball, but had no chance to throw out Kieffer. The Cardinals went 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh, including a Mykle Buhrow flyout that New Richmond center fielder Brooklyn Swanepoel made a spectacular diving catch on.

New Richmond’s magical season that includes its first ever Big Rivers Conference championship, is off to state. The Tigers were no strangers to playing in nail biters. All three of New Richmond’s postseason wins have come by one run.

“They have done a great job of playing through pressure situations,” New Richmond head coach Lynzi Knudtson said. “Once you start doing it over and over again, it just becomes second nature and it doesn’t feel like pressure anymore.”

Chippewa Falls had chances throughout. Even in the top of the sixth inning, Olivia Sanborn got aboard with a one-out bunt single and stole second with two outs. In the fourth inning, the Cardinals had two walks to lead off the frame. Every single time, Joachim answered.

The senior pitched all seven innings, ending the game by striking out Ali Geist.

“After the third, I knew it was going to be a pitcher’s duel,” Joachim said. “I knew that I needed to keep up my strength because Violet on the other side was keeping up hers. So I really just wanted to get through one inning at a time.”

The win was New Richmond’s third of the year over the Cardinals, something Knudtson acknowledged wasn’t easy to do while lauding the Cardinals program.

Chippewa Falls was held under nine runs for the first time in eight games.

“I couldn’t have done it without my pitching coach Mike Peterson,” Joachim said. “He really just guided me. [I stayed] calm when I wasn’t exactly getting the calls that I wanted from the umpire and then just working inside and going outside and making them hit my pitch.”

For Chippewa Falls, the Cardinals improved markedly after a bumpy stretch in the middle of the year. While McIlquham emerged as Chippewa’s go-to arm for the postseason, co-head coach Jared Faherty was proud of what all five of his pitchers accomplished. Both Faherty and co-head coach Chelsea Seckora were full of praise for their team.

“We use words like honored to be their coaches,” Seckora said. “This is such a quality group of young athletes. We’re just honored to be able to call ourselves their coaches.”

The Cardinals will lose nine seniors from this year’s team.

“You’re not sad that you lost, you’re sad that you don’t get to coach these kids again as a group,” Faherty said. “You’re really just sad that’s the last time that those nine [seniors] will wear that jersey and that this group will ever be together.”

New Richmond will compete in the quarterfinals at state next on Thursday. The Tigers don’t yet know their seed, but the Division 1 quarterfinal round begins at 8 a.m. Thursday at Goodman Diamond in Madison.

Fall Creek Softball

Fall Creek's Sophie Johnson makes a critical catch in extra innings. The Crickets took a nail-biting 1-0 win over Grantsburg in 12 innings to secure the Crickets first trip to state ever.

Fall Creek outlasts Grantsburg to punch ticket to state for first time in program history

The Fall Creek Crickets have finally slayed the dragon. After falling to Grantsburg in the sectional finals in their previous two seasons, the Crickets won a marathon 12-inning contest 1-0 to advance to the state tournament for the first time in program history.

Elena Raffesberger delivered a walk-off base hit that scored Kennedy Tumm to secure the victory. Grantsburg came into the game unbeaten and both the Pirates and Fall Creek were the two top-ranked teams in the state.

Seeding has yet to be decided but the Crickets will be joined by Auburndale, Coleman and Cuba City in the Division 4 state tournament. Division 4 semifinals begin Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at Goodman Diamond in Madison.

Thorp wins shootout to reach state, Rice Lake and Eleva-Strum fall in sectional finals

The Thorp Cardinals are once again heading to state after knocking off Mellen 11-8 in their Division 5 Sectional 1 championship game. This will be Thorp’s eighth trip to state, all of which have come since 2008, and second in three years.

The Cardinals are joined by Pacelli, Assumption and Oakfield in the Division 5 state tournament. Thorp’s semifinal matchup will take place at either 8:30 p.m. Thursday or 8:30 a.m. the following morning.

Rice Lake meanwhile fell to Mosinee 1-0 in its Division 2 sectional championship match. Mosinee got its lone run in the third inning. It’s the second year in a row the Warriors have lost in the sectional final.

Eleva-Strum’s Cinderella run came to an end at the hands of top-ranked Auburndale in the Division 4 Sectional 3 championship. The game was knotted up 0-0 until a two-out triple from Danika Blomberg scored two Eagles runs.

That wound up being the only offense of the game as Auburndale would go on to win 2-0.