Don’t let the final score fool you. The Osceola Chieftain baseball team fell to the Rice Lake Warriors by a final score of 9-1 in the sectional opener in a game played in Rice Lake. The Warriors were the better team in a game played in beautiful June weather but Osceola was in the game most of the way. Rice Lake had a solid game plan, put the ball in play, played errorless defense and eventually was able to pull away from OHS thus ending the Chieftain season. The Warriors proved the quality of their team by defeating Medford 7-4 later the same day to punch their ticket to the state tournament.
“Going to sectionals was a great experience for all of our kids,” Osceola Coach Kyle Collins said. “The support we had from the Osceola fan base was unbelievable. I think we had more Osceola fans show up to Rice Lake than even Rice Lake had, pretty cool.”
Rice Lake opened the scoring against Osceola with a single tally in the second inning and added another lone tally in the third to take a 2-0 lead. Osceola, who played as the home team by virtue of their 1-seed going into the tournament, responded with their only run of the game in the bottom of the third. With one out Lucas Sedivy drew a walk and went to second on a base hit by Carter Lalim. Sedivy scored on a base hit to right field by Nick Carlson putting runners on the corners with one out. Rice Lake right-hander Matthew Juza pitched his way out of the inning by getting the next two Chieftain hitters to fly out to left field.
Rice Lake led by only 2-1 after four innings but was able to put additional runs on the board in the later innings. The Warriors added a pair of runs in the fifth and sixth innings to build a 6-1 lead and they took the rest of the air from the Chieftain balloon with three more runs in the seventh. Osceola had threats in three of the final four innings but could not get the key hit to score the run. OHS loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth and had a pair of baserunners in the seventh but Rice Lake pitched their way out of both jams. Rice Lake’s defense pulled off a pair of double plays to help keep the Chieftains off the scoreboard.
“It’s been well-known that our strengths this year have been pitching and defense,” Collins said. “As you move further into the playoffs your weaknesses tend to become exposed. We had opportunities throughout the game to take the lead but just didn’t come up with the hits when we needed them. Our defense and pitching held us in the game as long as possible but Rice Lake battled with two strikes and hit a number of balls just out of the reach of our fielders. They made us play all seven innings and eventually it happened, we had one bad inning. This has been our philosophy all year against other teams, make them play all seven innings and take advantage when they have the one bad inning.”
Carlson had two of the five Chieftain hits for the game with Lalim, Brandon Newton and Charlie Tronrud collecting the others with a hit apiece. Carlson pitched the first four innings and took the loss with Tronrud and Tyler Ulrich finishing up.
Osceola finished the season with an overall record of 17-4. The Chieftains were 12-2 in the Middle Border Conference to earn the top spot. OHS won their regional when they received a bye in the first round and followed that up with wins over Amery and Baldwin-Woodville.
The loss in Rice Lake was the final game for three Osceola seniors, Carlson, Lalim and Austin Almlie. All three contributed greatly to the team’s successes and will be missed come next season.
“I’m very thankful to be a part of a great team who came together to win the first conference and regional championship in over 15 years,” Carlson said. “The season didn’t end the way we had all hoped for, but we met a lot of our goals for the season. We had a very young team with lots of guys coming back next year who make the future of Osceola baseball look bright. I’m proud to end my high school career on a high note with this group of guys.”
“Joy is the word that comes to mind when I think of these seniors,” Collins said. “Every day they were at the ballpark playing with friends, which brought them great happiness and I know watching them play, brought all of us coaches that same joy. In many ways because of covid it feels like these seniors will be returning for their final year next season. We all feel a little cheated missing their junior year of baseball. These seniors showed our younger players how to enjoy the game of baseball and how to play it the right way. They competed, they got better and they helped bring home a conference and regional championship. What more can you ask for?”