The Viroqua Sox, playing in its first Mississippi Valley League playoff game, gave the Chaseburg/Coon Valley Blues all it wanted, before coming up on the short end of a 4-2 score in a MVL tournament play-in battle last Wednesday evening, Aug. 2 at Park Bowl. The game was moved to Viroqua’s home field due to the unplayable conditions, caused by recent floods at Coon Valley Park, but the third-seeded Blues hosted the Sox as the home team.
The Sox saw two late-inning scoring chances wiped away, both by double plays turned by the Blues defense, and C/CV escaped with the hard-fought win. The victory advanced the Blues to the MVL semifinal round, where they will play the La Crescent Cardinals.
The Sox jumped out to a 1-0 lead with a run in the top of the second inning as Ryan Herken rattled a one-out triple into the right field corner and later scored on a perfectly placed bunt by Zach Trautsch down the first base line.
The Blues answered with a pair of runs in its half of the second when Jeff Raasch and Brock Rude reached base with walks. Jensen Hinsen followed with a single to right, scoring Raasch. Drew Tschumper followed with a single to left loading the bases, before a walk to Sam Prissel brought Rude in to give C/CV a 2-1 lead. The Blues built a 3-1 advantage in the third inning on a sacrifice fly by Rude, scoring Corey Geary.
The score stayed that way until the eighth when the Sox loaded the bases. Andrew Klieber and Zach Drake got things started with back-to-back singles and after the Blues failed to cut down Klieber at third base on a sacrifice bunt attempt, suddenly the bases were loaded with no outs. Kelly Olson then worked Blue’s starting pitcher Jake Erickson for a walk, driving in Klieber to cut the margin to 3-2.
Following the walk to Olson C/CV manager Bert Ekern called on Brock Rude to replace Erickson on the mound. Rude promptly induced Luigi Dolenti into a sharp ground ball to force Drake out at home and then got Ryan Kimm to hit into a 5-4-3 double play ending the Sox threat.
C/CV added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth to make the score 4-2 and it looked like they would need it, when the Sox put the tying runs at first and second base with a pair of one out base hits. But once again a double play ended the Sox threat, when Klieber drilled a hard-hit ground ball to third where Alex Robson, fielded it cleanly, stepped on third and threw a strike to first for the game ending 5-3 twin killing.
Erickson was the winning pitcher, working into the eighth inning and Rude picked up the save. Kimm took the loss for Viroqua, striking out two but walking six C/CV hitters. Olson 2-for-4 (RBI) and Herken 2-for-4 (triple) led Viroqua’s eight-hit offense. Prissel 2-for-4 (double and 2 RBI) and Geary 2-for-5 led C/CV’s ten hit attack.
“We knew coming into this game we would need to play our best game of the year to beat C/CV and we came really close,” Viroqua Manager Cody Knutson said. “We came up just short of a big upset. Our goal was to be in the league playoffs this year and we were able to accomplish that for the first time in team history.
“I am very proud of these guys, they fought hard all year long in the toughest amateur baseball conference in the state. This team is full of talent, we have a very bright future. I want to say thank you to all of our fans for their support and we look forward to seeing you next season.”
After securing a MVL playoff spot with a win over Bangor a couple of weeks ago, the Sox prepared for the play-in game versus C/CV with a pair of league games against Sparta Miller, the defending Wisconsin Baseball Association champion and the top team in the conference this summer.
The Sox went toe-to-toe with Miller on July 27 in a game played at Sparta, battling back from an early 8-2 deficit to pull to within one run at 8-7. The Sox had the tying run on in the ninth before the Miller’s shut the door and escaped with the win. Sparta bounced back with a 12-2 win a few days later in game two at Viroqua’s Park Bowl.
“Sparta is loaded with top area college players…they have only one loss in the conference this year and are the defending state champs, so it was impressive for us to play right with them in the first game…they just got the best of us in game two,” Knutson said.