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Pirates end Rats' run

Brian Sparstad was named the Hudson River Rats' Pitcher of the Year for 2009 after posting a record[d1] of 8-3 with two complete game shutouts and a 3.85 earned run average. Bob Burrows, Star-Observer file photo

It was guaranteed that only one St. Croix Valley Baseball League team would reach the semifinal round of the Wisconsin Baseball Association State Tournament last weekend in Haugen.

And if you were a Hudson River Rats fan, the wrong team made it.

Hudson and the Prescott Pirates, both representing the SCVBL in the eight-team state tournament field, squared off Friday night at Haugen Ball Park with the South Division champion Pirates squeaking out a run in the top of the ninth to eliminate the Rats, 7-6.

Prescott went on to lose to the host Haugen Knights, 10-9, in a Saturday night semifinal while the Eau Claire Bears defeated the Rib Lake Lakers, 9-0, in the other semifinal game. Eau Claire won its second straight WBA state championship and third in five years by defeating Haugen, 12-1, on Sunday.

Friday night's loss ended the River Rats' season with a record of 22-10, but they didn't go down without a fight.

After taking a 3-0 first inning lead, the Rats fell behind 6-5 in the sixth before tying the score when Chris Kein scored on a sacrifice fly by Jason Hollar in the bottom of the eighth.

Prescott however, would push across the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth on a lead-off single by Nick Thoen, a sacrifice bunt, and an RBI double by Jim French. Pirates' closer Nick Johnson retired the Rats in order in the bottom of the ninth to secure the victory and send Prescott to the WBA semifinals for the second time in three years.

Hudson jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead off Prescott starter Mike LaBarbera when Hollar came home on an RBI single by Brent Blegen and Jason Bast doubled in Andy LaBrosse and Joel Schaffer.

Prescott cut the Rats' lead to 3-2 with a pair of runs off Hudson starter Brian Sparstad in the top of the second and tied the score, 3-3, with a single run in the fourth.

The Rats regained the lead, 4-3, in the bottom of the inning when Craig Jilek scored on a two-out single by Hollar, and extended the lead to 5-3 when Schaffer led off the bottom of the fifth with a triple to left center and scored on Bast's RBI fielder's choice groundout to the shortstop

The Pirates knocked Sparstad out of the game in the top of the sixth after a lead-off single and hit batter put runners on first and second with nobody out. Dave Leske, who the Rats picked up from the Osceola Braves for the state tourney, came on in relief and immediately threw a passed ball to move the runners to second and third.

Prescott's Alex Ross then ripped a 3-1 offering from Leske that landed just out of reach of a diving Kein in right-center field to plate two runs, then Ross scored on a single by Dillon Powel to give Prescott a 6-5 lead.

Hudson tied the score in the eighth on Kein's sac fly, but the Pirates answered with a run in the ninth before turning things over to Johnson for the win.

Jilek earned the team's playoff MVP award by going 9-for-13 with four RBI and four runs scored in three games.

Other season awards were given to lead-off hitter Hollar as the team's Offensive MVP, shortstop LaBrosse and third baseman Blegen as co-Defensive MVPs, Sparstad as Pitcher of the Year, and pitcher Tyler Dierke as Rookie of the Year.

Hollar created nearly two runs per game for the Rats this season while Sparstad went 8-3 with a 3.85 ERA and two complete-game shutouts-- a 1-0 victory over the SCVBL champion Pirates on June 7 and a 10-0 win over the Bayside Vipers in the opening game of the WBA playoffs

Aug. 8.

Dierke went 8-0 on the mound with an ERA of 2.65 since joining the Rats after earning Big Rivers Conference Pitcher of the Year honors with the Hudson Raiders. For LaBrosse, it marks the third straight year he has been named the team's Defensive MVP.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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