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Former La Crosse Loggers impress at MLB All-Star Game
 ColtenB  / 

MIAMI — A pair of former La Crosse Loggers lived up to the hype surrounding them entering Tuesday night’s MLB All-Star Game.

Washington’s Max Scherzer, who played for the Loggers in 2004, and Boston’s Chris Sale, who pitched for the Loggers in 2008, started the Midsummer Classic for their respective leagues. The game was not completed at the Tribune’s press time.

Scherzer pitched one inning and faced four batters. He allowed a single to right field off the bat of Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez in the second at-bat of the game, but then struck out New York’s Aaron Judge and Houston’s George Springer to close out the inning.

Judge won the Home Run Derby on Monday, and leads the American League in homers.

Sale was just as impressive in the first inning. He got Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon to line out to Judge in right field before striking out hometown favorite, Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton. Washington’s Bryce Harper fought off an inside pitch and punched it into left for a single, but Sale got San Francisco’s Buster Posey to fly out to center to end the threat.

Sale pitched the second, allowing back-to-back singles to the first two batters. Washington’s Jordan Zimmerman then grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, and Sale finished his outing by striking out Miami’s Marcell Ozuna.

La Crosse Loggers: Jake Hirabayashi back in the infield, providing spark
 ColtenB  / 

Jake Hirabayashi was one of the best in the country at his position. Then, in an instant, he was thrown into something he’d never done before when he first walked onto the UCLA campus.

Hirabayashi was a heralded blue-chip prep player at Notre Dame High School in nearby Sherman Oaks, Calif., just a mere 6½ miles north of the UCLA campus. Hirabayashi was ranked the 85th-best player in the country and the fifth-best third baseman in the state of California for the Class of 2015.

When he got to UCLA, that’s where he expected to play.

He was recruited as an infielder. So you can imagine the look on his face when they told him that they wanted him to be a catcher.

To be fair, Hirabayashi had caught before ... in Little League.

Other than that, Hirabayashi had no experience behind the plate.

“It was surprising,” said Hirabayashi, who is in his second season with the Loggers. “I got recruited as an infielder, (Bruins) coach (John Savage) told me maybe once or twice you may catch, but it kind of came out of nowhere that I had to put on the gear.”

Hirabayashi didn’t have much time to learn the position. On February 20, 2016 — the Bruins second game of the season and in just his second career collegiate game — Hirabayashi started behind the dish against the University of North Carolina.

“It was cool and it was a great experience. I learned a lot,” Hirabayashi said with a chuckle. “I got more comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Hirabayashi went on to make 16 of his 18 starts as a freshman at catcher for the Bruins, and was listed as a catcher on the UCLA roster. He struggled at the plate, managing just seven hits in 66 at-bats for a .106 average.

But, Hirabayashi started to find his swing in La Crosse last summer, but suffered a broken hand on a swing during an at-bat in St. Cloud on July 10, 2016, cutting his season short. He hit .250 in 24 games.

“I hit a single and this is pretty funny, I squared the ball up and it was the hardest ball I hit all summer,” Hirabayashi said. “And I broke my hand on it. Which is weird because typically it’s on mishit balls, swing-and-misses and stuff like that, so it was kind of odd.”

That was the end to a frustrating few months for Hirabayashi. He went through rehab for the broken hand but made up in his mind he was going to come back stronger than before. He saw his teammates and his opponents and he realized he simply had to get bigger.

“I really took that to heart seeing those other guys and what Division I baseball looks like and just make it part of my game,” Hirabayashi said. “Just trying to get bigger, stronger, faster, just improving in any way I can.”

The added strength has been the noticeable change since he arrived for a second summer with the Loggers.

“We’ve talked about it, his physical strength that’s really the basis of it all,” Logger manager Brian Lewis said. “He’s just physically stronger, so all of the tools that he had have just gotten better.”

His sophomore season at UCLA was better. The Bruins switched him back to the infield, where Hirabayashi made 14 starts, but the numbers still weren’t where he wanted them to be. In 37 games, Hirabayashi hit just .218.

But, so far this summer, Hirabayashi has seemingly found himself at the plate. He started the season on a seven-game hit streak and hit safely in nine of his first 10 games. Entering Tuesday’s game, Hirabayashi was hitting .257 and has hit safely in his past three games. Back to playing the infield, Hirabayashi admitted that he was feeling much more comfortable this summer.

“I was definitely more confident coming in this year,” Hirabayashi said. “Playing infield, which I have been doing my whole life. So confidence was huge this year.”

Confidence will continue to be big, as this appears to be a make-or-break summer for the sophomore.

“When we talked to him before he got here, he didn’t care what position he wanted to play, he just wanted to be in there everyday,” Lewis said. “We told him we will put you in there everyday as long as you are doing the job. He’s more than done the job so far. But this summer is a big summer for him and his development for UCLA.”

Hirabayashi is enjoying another summer here in La Crosse, something he was looking forward to. However, he probably wasn’t even the most excited in his family. Hirabayashi’s mother and grandmother fell in love with the area when they came to see Hirabayashi play last summer.

“They love it,” Hirabayashi said. “They had such a great time. We had breakfast at Fayze’s, we love it here. My mom calls me and tells me she’s excited to come back every day.”

His mom and grandma are going to try to make another trip to La Crosse in the coming weeks, but for now Hirabayashi is just enjoying the fact that he gets to play infield everyday again while getting the chance to improve his game.

“I feel very confident in the infield, so I’m just trying to continue to hammer that in defensively, I’m trying to get better at moving around,” Hirabayashi said. “Just trying to get comfortable at every position and then I think the biggest thing for me is just to get at-bats.”

La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway: Without yellow flag, Jerimy Wagner's night may have been different

WEST SALEM — It’s pretty safe to say that yellow is not Jerimy Wagner’s favorite color.

When it came out, he likely saw red.

The stock car driver from Onalaska was powering his 2015 Ford Fusion ahead of the 27-car Late Model field Saturday night for the first 13 laps of the 25-lap feature race at the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway. When Carter Christenson’s car ended up in the grass of the backstretch, the flagman waved a yellow caution flag that changed everything.

Suddenly Wagner’s several car-length lead was gone, and a restart was in order. On that restart, Matthew Henderson jumped to the outside line, then swiped the lead from Wagner two turns later.

Henderson would go on to win the feature race, while Wagner was left wondering, “What if?’’ the caution didn’t happen.

He’s probably still pondering that thought, too, as it would have been his first feature victory since 2012.

“I felt like I was good enough to win it. I knew Matt would have a hard time getting around me if things went green the whole race,” Wagner said. “That yellow had to come out, you know, as it usually does.”

Wagner, Henderson and Cole Howland were tightly grouped for the first half of the race with the rest of the field — including the top two in points, Nick Panitzke and Steve Carlson — at least 10 car lengths back.

Panitzke and Carlson, in fact, were penned in for much of the race as they battled with several hard-nosed drivers, including Tony Leis.

“I looked (in his mirror) once in a while and I see Steve got out (from the pack) and I was kind of watching for him coming through,” Wagner said of Carlson. “My car, it was loose the whole race. I couldn’t get back on the gas coming out of the corner. It was good enough for a third-place finish.”

While Wagner reluctantly settled for third place, it was an impressive overall performance. One that turned some heads, and one that pushed him toward the top 10 in the Tobacco Outlet Plus points standings.

Entering this Saturday night’s racing program, Wagner is 11th in the standings with 206, just 18 behind 10th-place Mike Ehde.

“It shows that we can run up front with these guys,” Wagner said. “We have a little bit more tweaking to do to the car, but it seems pretty close.”

TENSE MOMENTS: Ryan Brown, a Late Model rookie who never raced at any level before this season, won his first race last week when he captured a heat race.

Surprisingly, Brown said he’s the most nervous when his car is stopped.

“I tell you what, the most nervous I get is when we are sitting in the car before a race, getting lineup,” the 28-year-old La Crosse man said. “Everybody is lined up, the adrenaline is going. As soon as that green flag drops, all worries are gone and I am just going around the track.”

HUMFELD STILL LEADS: Randy Humfeld of Chaseburg is having a strong season as he remains atop the Dean’s Satellite Sportsmen Division season points standings. Humfeld, who finished third behind Steve Bachman and Adam Oxborough in Saturday’s 15-lap feature, has 332 points on the season.

That is 35 more than Brad Warthan and 61 more than the third-place Bachman.

MOORE ROLLING: Sparta’s Adam Moore holds the points lead in the Auto Value Thunderstox Division just past the mid-point of the season. Moore had 382 points, 23 more than another Sparta driver, Jason Bolster.

At 37, Venus Williams into 10th Wimbledon semi; Konta next

LONDON — Venus Williams’ mother could not stop smiling and laughing. She had just watched her 37-year-old daughter reach the Wimbledon semifinals for the 10th time and, well, the whole thing was just a bit hard to believe.

“She says, ‘I love my job!’ and she means it. I guess she’s kind of like a boxer: People think it’s time for her to quit because she’s too old,” Oracene Price said after leaving Centre Court, where the roof was shut because of rain Tuesday. “But she keeps getting back in the ring — and she seems to be doing pretty well. This is really amazing.”

Enjoying a career renaissance deep into her 30s, despite dealing with an energy-sapping disease, Williams rode a strong serve that produced eight aces, imposing returns and her court coverage of old to a 6-3, 7-5 victory over French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, edging closer to a sixth singles title at the All England Club.

“The competition keeps you growing,” Williams said. “You have to get better if you want to stay relevant.”

Somehow, at age 37, she’s done that. This was her 100th Wimbledon match, coming in her 20th appearance. The first of her trophies at the grass-court tournament came in 2000. And now, for the third match in a row, Williams beat a player who was born in 1997 — after she made her Grand Slam debut that year.

Williams is the only woman to have made the fourth round at each of the past six majors, and now she’s into her third semifinal in that span. She made it that far at Wimbledon last year, too, before losing, and got to the final at the Australian Open in January, when she was beaten by her younger sister, Serena.

“Who knows if she’s lost a step?” said Williams’ coach, David Witt. “She looks pretty good to me.”

Williams revealed in 2011 that she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, which can sap energy and cause joint pain. As time went on, there were questions about whether she might retire, especially after a half-dozen first-round losses at majors. But she kept going, and with her recent successes, a championship this week would return the American to the top five in the rankings for the first time in six years.

“I just always felt like I have to keep trying,” said Williams, who repeatedly took advantage of Ostapenko’s second serves at around 70 mph. “That’s all I felt like.”

To get to what would be her ninth final at the All England Club, the 10th-seeded Williams will need to win Thursday against No. 6 Johanna Konta, the first British woman in the Wimbledon semifinals since Virginia Wade was the runner-up in 1978.

“I definitely feel that age is not a factor with her,” Konta said about Williams. “She’s just a tremendous champion, and I feel very, very humbled, and I’m very excited to share the court with her again.”

Konta prevented Halep from rising to No. 1 by beating her 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 6-4. The result means that Karolina Pliskova, who lost in the second round, will replace Angelique Kerber, who departed in the fourth, atop the rankings next week.

The other semifinal will be Garbine Muguruza of Spain against 87th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia. Muguruza, the 2015 Wimbledon runner-up and 2016 French Open champion, defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-4. Rybarikova, the lowest-ranked Wimbledon semifinalist since 2008, got past 24th-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe of the U.S. 6-3, 6-3 in a match suspended at 2-all in the second set because of showers and moved from Court No. 1 to Centre Court so it could be finished indoors.

Rybarikova had never been past the third round in her 35 previous career majors, including seven opening-round exits in a row at Wimbledon from 2008-14. She missed the second half of last season after wrist and knee operations, and her ranking fell out of the top 400.

“I had a really tough time,” Rybarikova said, “and right now, I’m here, and everything paid off.”

The men’s quarterfinals Wednesday: Novak Djokovic against Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer against Milos Raonic, defending champion Andy Murray against Sam Querrey, and Marin Cilic against Gilles Muller, who stunned Rafael Nadal in a marathon that ended 15-13 in the fifth set Monday.