The Fighting Fish have been mashing the ball early and often lately, and it’s largely the reason that River Falls has improved to 19-0, which is its best start in the franchise’s 16-year …
The Fighting Fish have been mashing the ball early and often lately, and it’s largely the reason that River Falls has improved to 19-0, which is its best start in the franchise’s 16-year history.
River Falls scored a combined 11 runs in the opening inning of its last two games. The Fish hung six in the bottom of the first against the Stillwater Loggers on Friday night, and then five more the following evening at home against the Elmwood Expos on Saturday, June 24.
The Fighting Fish’s early offensive salvos against Stillwater and Elmwood led to a pair of double-digit victories and an unblemished 19-0 overall record. River Falls also improved to 8-0 in St. Croix Valley Baseball League action, which puts the Fighting Fish firmly atop the standings.
For River Falls player/manager Josh Eidem, who has been with the team since its inception in 2008, the early offensive success that has driven the undefeated record is a byproduct of a roster that has obsessed with pregame preparation.
“For a town ball team, our guys prepare really well,” Eidem said. “Guys are early for batting practice and we don’t have a lot of guys who are coming in at the last minute. Life doesn’t always let that happen, but this crew is always ready the first time through. That probably sets them apart from other teams that we’ve had.”
Major League Baseball had the 1927 New York Yankees, which was a team revered for its top six hitters in the lineup. Their success ultimately earned the nickname ‘Murderers’ Row,’ which was a testament to the strength of two-thirds of the Yankees’ batting order.
Although it’s a much smaller scale, River Falls has become the Murderers’ Row of the St. Croix Valley Baseball League and the larger Wisconsin Baseball Association. The lineup, which has produced a league-best 9.9 runs per game, is rife with current and former collegiate players.
Whether it’s third baseman Ragan Pinnow, who is currently playing Division 2 baseball at Augustana, or second baseman Lucas Luedtke, who was a four-year Division 3 player at UW-Stevens Point, River Falls’ offensive lineup is stacked with talent.
One of the newest additions to the team is second-year player Will Smoot, a Cottage Grove, Minn., native who has seen his role grow exponentially this season. Last year he was a utility player, but this season he moved into the starting catcher role and has become an integral member of the Fighting Fish’s illustrious lineup.
Smoot catalyzed River Falls’ aforementioned first-inning success at home against Stillwater on Friday night. Already leading 3-0 with one runner on base when he came to the plate, Smoot blasted a two-run homer over the fence in right-center field to make it a 5-0 game.
When the Fighting Fish secured their 12-2 victory over Stillwater in seven innings, Smoot had gone three-for-four at the plate with a single, a double and one tape-measure home run that broke the game open. Eidem spoke about what Smoot has brought to the team this season.
“His baseball IQ for a kid his age is sky-high,” Eidem said. “He understands the game at a much higher level and I think that’s why he fits so well with the older guys. They don’t feel like they have to babysit him. To be able to jump into the middle of this lineup at his age is impressive. He’s our RBI guy. You get guys on base and that’s where you want them when he’s batting.”
River Falls’ offensive success carried over the following night against the Elmwood Expos. The Fish scored five in the first inning, three in the second, a pair in the third and five more in the fourth inning.
The Fighting Fish cruised to a 15-1 victory and remained undefeated for the 2023 season. The flawless 19-0 mark is the best start in franchise history, especially considering it’s one of the toughest schedules River Falls has ever played.
Although River Falls appears to be speeding down the highway with the cruise control comfortably set at 95 mph, Eidem believes that eventually, a team is going to catch them off guard and end the winning streak.
“It gets hard to keep the intensity,” Eidem said. “Somebody is going to sneak up on us sometime, but that’s baseball. I think (being undefeated) is surprising because we’ve played some really good teams. The guys are bringing a really good effort, but when you get into the hot days at the end of June and early July, it’s going to be hard.”
River Falls has seamlessly married a dynamic veteran-laden offense with a deep pitching staff that has led to a historic start to the season. The Fighting Fish will look to continue their success against the Plum City Blues on Wednesday, June 28. That game will begin at 7:30 p.m.