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Softball: Raiders win BRC title outright

Catcher Emily Juza embraces freshman pitcher Sydney Gabriel after Garbriel struck out the final batter to give the Raiders a 9-5 victory over Chippewa Falls for the Raider’s first undisputed Big Rivers Conference championship in program history Monday, May 13, at Grandview Park. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
Sophomore center fielder Avery Johnson makes a diving catch for the final out of the fifth inning with runners on first and second to preserve the Raider’s 5-3 lead at the time over Chippewa Falls in the second game of a doubleheader at Grandview Park Monday, May 13. The Raiders went on to win 9-5 to win their first Big Rivers Conference championship in program history. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
Freshman Sydney Garbriel winds up to deliver a pitch in the second game of a doubleheader against Chippewa Falls Monday, May 13, at Grandview Park. Gabriel pitched a total of 12 innings in the doubleheader to help the Raiders sweep the Cardinals, 2-1 and 9-5, to claim their first Big Rivers Conference championship in program history. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

Sydney Gabriel was just happy to make the varsity softball team this year as a freshman. Monday night, May 13, she helped the Raiders make school history.

Gabriel pitched 12 of 14 innings in a doubleheader with Chippewa Falls, picking up the complete game win in a 2-1 win in the first game and getting a five-inning save in a 9-5 victory in the nightcap, to give the Raiders their first undisputed Big Rivers Conference championship in program history.

“I’m so excited!” Gabriel said after striking out the final batter in the nightcap. “I’m just so proud of everyone. It’s just crazy that my freshman year I get to experience this.”

Chippewa Falls has won or shared 10 straight BRC titles. And while the Raiders shared the title with the Cardinals in 2016 they never won it outright. Until Monday night when they swept both games of a doubleheader in a battle of the last two undefeated conference teams in the last week of conference play,

“For the first time ever Hudson is conference champs in softball,” Raider coach Jim Revoir said, pausing a moment to savor the statement. “It’s pretty cool to be a part of history.”

Monday’s sweep gave the Raiders eight wins in their last nine games, including 8-1 and 6-1 victories over Eau Claire Memorial last Thursday, May 9. Revoir said he had a feeling when he showed up at Hudson’s Grandview Park Monday that it would be the Raider’s night.

“I got to the ballpark today, and I was really nervous last week at Memorial, but I don’t know I had a feeling today,” he said. “I felt like it was their day. They earned it and they deserved it and they were going to do it today.”

They did it in the first game behind the arm and bat of Gabriel. After giving up a solo home run in the first inning she allowed just two hits the rest of the way while striking out 11 without a walk. She also drove in the go-ahead run with an RBI double in the fifth.

The Raiders tied the score earlier in the inning when Avery Johnson and Emily Juza led off with back-to-back singles and Johnson scored on an error by the Cardinal catcher following a sacrifice fly by Ellie Yeager. Gabriel’s double came with two outs to plate Maddie Malmquist, who had come in to pinch run for Juza.

Grace O’Brien started the nightcap for Hudson before Gabriel entered the game with the Raiders clinging to a 4-3 lead in the third.

O’Brien singled and scored on a Hannah Stich groundout in the fifth to extend Hudson’s lead to 5-3, and after Chippewa made it a one-run game in the sixth, Hudson tacked on four more runs in the top of the seventh to earn some breathing room.

Gabriel said she appreciated the four-run cushion entering the bottom of the seventh.

“I was definitely nervous but when we got our four-run lead I felt a lot more confident and had faith in my team that we could really do it,” she said.

O’Brien finished 3-for-3 with three runs scored and three stolen bases in the nightcap and Yeager had three hits, including a two-run homer in the top of the second to give the Raiders a 4-1 lead. Paige Meyer singled, doubled and drove in three runs while Gabriel added an RBI double.

O’Brien gave up two earned runs in the first two innings to earn the win while Gabriel battled through five innings of relief, allowing nine hits and two earned runs with five strikeouts and two walks.

Revoir had nothing but praise for the freshman.

“To have a young kid like that who just comes in and does her job, does her job every day? It’s fun to watch a kid like that,” he said. “Things got a little hairy there and some freshman may struggle with that a little bit, but she just kept doing what she needed to do to finish the game.”

Gabriel said she was just happy to be part of a conference championship winning team in her very first season.

“I never really expected this,” she said. “I mean, I knew I deserved to be on the team but I never expected to go this far. But I’m so proud of my teammates. They really support me in everything and I know that they’re always behind me. I just love them.”

Gabriel is one of seven freshmen and sophomores on the Raider roster, which makes their undisputed conference title even more impressive.

“I don’t know if there’s many coaches who can say they won a conference championship with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores,” Revoir pointed out. “That’s a testament to the Boosters and all the coaches they have who get these girls ready to play. They’ve grown so much over the year. They just keep getting better and it’s been really fun to watch in practice. They’re ready to go to the next game and it’s been really fun.”

That next game will come Thursday, May 16, with a non-conference match-up with Baldwin-Woodville in Baldwin. But first is the WIAA postseason seeding meeting Wednesday night. And the Raiders, now 14-3 overall, certainly helped their chances for a high seed with Monday night’s sweep of the Cardinals.

“Yeah, I think we did,” Revor said.

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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