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Raider baseball team falls in sectional final

Hudson senior Michael Hommes headlines a group of nine Raider players named to 2013 All-Big Rivers Conference baseball teams. The Big Rivers Conference champion Raiders came up one win short of a state tournament appearance, losing to Stevens point in the sectional final last Thursday in Wisconsin Rapids. Star-Observer file photo.

After a thrilling 12-inning victory over Big Rivers Conference rival Eau Claire Memorial in the WIAA sectional semifinals last Thursday, June 6, in Wisconsin Rapids, the Raider baseball team couldn't keep the momentum going in the sectional final against Stevens Point, falling 11-1 in five innings.

The loss was just the second of the season for the Raiders and marked the second straight year Hudson has lost to Stevens Point with a berth in the state tournament on the line.

"Hats off to Stevens Point," Raider head coach Ryan Huppert said. "They are a very good ball club and one I think can go to Appleton and win it all. I am very proud of our players. Although we did not make it down to Appleton, we had a special year."

Hudson finished the 2013 season with a record of 14-2, the best in program history. They went 11-1 in Big Rivers Conference play to win their first BRC title and first conference title in 34 years, and finished the season ranked No. 9 in the final Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Division 1 poll.

The Raiders reached the sectional final for the second straight year with a dramatic 3-2, 12-inning victory over Eau Claire Memorial in last Tuesday's semifinal game.

Blake Amborn delivered the game-winning hit with a two-out, bases-loaded line drive over the centerfielder's head in the bottom of the 12th inning to score Miles Lewis from third.

Mike Hommes matched Louisville-bound and BRC Pitcher of the Year Jake Sparger of Eau Claire Memorial pitch-for-pitch to keep the game scoreless through seven innings. Hommes picked up a pair of strikeouts to work out of a bases-loaded jam in the second and retired 13 straight batters before Sparger singled and was left stranded in the sixth.

The Raiders meanwhile had runners in scoring position in the first, second, third, sixth and eighth innings but couldn't get the big hit.

"That was a special performance in a big game from Michael Hommes on the bump," Huppert said. "He went head to head with one of the best pitchers in the state and gave us a chance to win the game."

Stef Smith came on in relief of Hommes and kept the game scoreless through nine innings before the Old Abes scored twice in the top of the 10th to take a 2-0 lead.

Hudson answered in the bottom of the inning off Old Abe reliever Dalton Roach when Hommes led off with a single, Josh Evenson walked and Austin Evenson delivered a one-out double to drive in both players.

The Old Abes had two runners on base in the top of the 12th but Smith induced a 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning, setting the stage for Amborn's heroics.

Lewis walked to lead off the bottom of the 12th and after a pair of outs Hunter Frey reached on an error and Chuck Peterson walked to load the bases. Amborn then drilled a line drive over the centerfielder's head to give Hudson the win.

"That was a special moment for the team and especially for Blake Amborn getting the game winning, walk-off hit," Huppert said. "Blake is as hard working and as good a kid as they come, so it was really rewarding to see him come through with the big game winning hit."

Hommes pitched seven innings of shutout ball, allowing two hits while striking out six and walking three. Smith worked the final five innings to get credit for the victory, allowing two earned runs on eight hits with one strikeout and two walks.

Both pitchers benefitted from a Raider defense that played errorless ball through 12 innings.

The Raiders didn't have much time to enjoy their victory, turning around and playing Stevens Point right away in the sectional final. The Pointers had defeated Eau Claire North, 5-1, in the other sectional semifinal that was completed earlier in the day.

Stevens Point scored four runs in the second inning, two in the third and five in the fourth while limiting Hudson to just three hits. The Raiders' lone run came when Peterson hit into a bases-loaded fielder's choice that allowed Lewis to score in the top of the fourth.

Josh Evenson worked the first three innings on the mound, allowing six earned runs on six hits with one strikeout and no walks. Frey gave up five earned runs on five hits with a strikeout and no walks in one inning of work.

After two straight years reaching the sectional final, Huppert said he is confident the Raider program is on the right track.

"One of these years we will take that next step forward past sectionals and get over to Appleton," he said. "We will continue to work hard to reach that goal. For our younger ball players out there, I know it is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work, commitment and dedication But if we can do that together moving forward, it'll all be worth it."

Huppert said he is most proud of this year's 10 seniors -- Hommes, Amborn, Smith, Peterson, Austin Evenson, Josh Evenson, Todd Mork, Alex Newell, Matt Monette and Jake Shaw.

"They have been a special group to work with over the past four years and have won a lot of ball games," he said. "They will be very difficult to replace and will all be missed."

Nine Raiders All-BRC

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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