Prep Baseball Report

Top 10 Stories of 2023: No. 6 St. Croix Falls Claims D3 State Title Behind Strong Team Effort

By: Maddox Durst
Staff Writer

At the end of each calendar year, the PBR Wisconsin staff reflects back on the 10 most intriguing headlines that surrounded the baseball scene in the Badger State. Through the end of the month, we will break down the most impactful storylines from an eventful 2023 campaign, ending with our No. 1 story revealed Dec. 30.

A state championship was a long time coming for many graduating seniors at St. Croix Falls this past summer – specifically RHP/INF Brayden Olson (2023; Purdue), 1B Brady Belisle (2023; Augustana (football)) and RHP Dylan Smith (2023).

Their run began in June of 2021, where the Saints dropped a 5-4 heartbreaker in the Sectional Final to a juggernaut in Eau Claire Regis.

Less than a year later, St. Croix Falls broke through and made it to the state tournament. Olson entered with a flawless ERA, having not allowed an earned run all season. The Saints had only lost one of their 26 games during the regular season and playoff run. They entered as the favorites amongst the field. Unfortunately for the team tucked in the northwest corner of the state, they ran into a red-hot Cuba City group that broke their hearts after gutsy outings from the Cubans’ pitching staff.

Those three players entered their senior season with a strong supporting cast, and took full advantage. They were experienced and determined, eventually striking gold in Appleton by the conclusion of the 2023 season.

St. Croix Falls had dropped three games throughout the regular season, an uncharacteristic mark for head coach Matt Vold’s squad that may have helped them grow. The Saints lost their final game of the season to Aquinas 13-5, who they would eventually meet again in the state championship game.

After giving up just a combined two runs in four playoff games prior to the first semifinal, St. Croix Falls matched up with Kiel, a formidable team out of the Eastern Wisconsin Conference. The pitching staff remained elite for the Saints, and the offense pulled through at the right time to get a win.

Olson went the distance – striking out 12 batters over six innings of work. He shut out the Raiders, and hit a home run in the process. Belisle followed that up with two triples, four RBIs and a long ball. The day could not have gone better for St. Croix Falls, as they went on to run-rule Kiel 10-0 in six frames.

The next day, the Saints took to the field again to square off against the aforementioned Aquinas Blugolds.

It remained a low-scoring affair for the majority of the game, as Smith and RHP Will Deets (2024; Gustavus Adolphus College) were locked in a pitchers’ duel. Smith – who was on varsity since his sophomore year – delivered when the Saints needed it most.

The righty was 2-for-2 at the plate and held a potent Blugolds’ lineup quiet for seven innings. Smith struck out five batters and only allowed one run. His two-way performance elevated St. Croix Falls to an eventual championship.

Big hits came from INF Michael Shannon (2023) – another senior on this veteran Saints team. Shannon smacked a double down the left field line to break the scoreless start for both teams – pushing St. Croix Falls out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning.

OF Waylon Hargrove (2026) of Aquinas drove in the Blugolds’ lone run with a single to the opposite field. Star athlete INF Eddie Peters (2024; Xavier) scored on the play, as he remained the spark on the offensive end.

St. Croix Falls would have a response though. It was something they lacked in that first matchup against the Blugolds – just three weeks prior to this battle.

Shannon delivered again, as the scrappy right-hander notched his third RBI of the game in the fourth inning – extending the Saints’ lead to 3-1.

From there, Smith took the game into his own hands on the bump. He shut down Aquinas for the final three innings – ending the game with a strikeout as his teammates piled on him in celebration at Fox Cities Stadium. Deets kept his team in it the rest of the time, but Shannon’s three RBIs proved to be the difference-maker in a 3-1 victory.

St. Croix Falls finally earned gold in Appleton after three truly successful years of baseball. Olson went on to win the Division 3 POTY award – voted on by the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association – for the second straight year. He etched his name in history with other small-town baseball legends such as INF Noah Miller (Ozaukee, 2021; Alabama) and OF/LHP Owen Washburn (Webster, 2021; Texas Tech).

On a senior-driven team, the Saints found a way to win on the biggest stage, and finished the year with a 28-3 overall record. Olson, Belisle and Smith – in just three years of varsity baseball – tallied 80 victories in their time as members of Vold’s program. A bittersweet ending to many storied high school baseball careers summarized the season for the Saints, as they look to build on their success come springtime.