MARSHALL - Class AA, No. 5-ranked Fairmont took the first step Saturday in trying to defend its Section 3 baseball crown.
Luke Becker's sacrifice fly delivered Bryce Holm with the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth inning, while the Cardinals' Ben Gratz-to-Levi Becker-to-Luke Becker relay play in the home half thwarted No. 8-ranked Marshall's comeback bid in a sectional elimination game at American Legion Field in Marshall.
Freshman right-hander Spencer Chirpich hurled an eight-hit complete-game gem to engineer the Cardinals' 5-4 extra-inning playoff victory over the Tigers.
POST-GAME KUDOS — Fairmont starting pitcher Spencer Chirpich (with glove) receives congratulations from teammates Jordan Voss, Andy Reiter and Christian Petschke as Cardinal assistant coach Jerry Brooks (front) looks on after Fairmont defeated Marshall in a Section 3AA elimination baseball playoff game Saturday at American Legion Field in Marshall. (Photo by Chip Pearson)
Fairmont (21-3) faces unranked Morris Area (15-7) in another elimination game at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in Marshall. Ironically, Morris Area downed Fairmont, 7-1, Thursday in a winners-bracket clash.
No. 9-ranked New Ulm (19-5) flattened Morris Area, 10-0 in six innings, during Saturday's battle of sectional unbeatens. The Eagles await the winner of the Fairmont-Morris Area game in the Section 3 championship at 5 p.m. Thursday at American Legion Field.
Marshall ended its season with a 14-6 record.
"We beat a quality team in Marshall today," said Cardinal mentor Todd Sukalski, who guided his program to the Class AA state tournament in both 2010 and 2011. "Spencer (Chirpich) did a great job of pitching again today. For a freshman, he's proven he's battle-tested after beating a tough Luverne team twice and now Marshall."
Trailing 4-3, the hometown Tigers scratched out a solo run in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings. Mason Schnaible drew a leadoff walk, took second base on Leo Zerr's sacrifice bunt and stayed put on a walk to Matt Campion.
Chirpich recorded his fourth strikeout of the sectional clash for the second out, but Alex Fenske delivered a high-chopping single over the second-base bag to plate Schnaible with the tying run.
Chirpich, however, displayed his mettle by getting a groundout to keep the Cardinals' playoff chances alive.
"Bryce singled to get us started in the eighth, and Ross (Wilken) gave us a key at-bat by coming back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk to load the bases," said Sukalski. "Luke then did a nice job of driving in the go-ahead run with his sac fly."
Holm reached on a hit, wheeled to second on Ryan Noll's sacrifice bunt and motored to third when Andy Reiter's flyball to right was dropped. Wilken worked out a walk to load the bases before Luke Becker lofted a sacrifice fly to left to plate Holm for the 5-4 edge.
Up by one, Chirpich recorded a groundout to open the bottom of the eighth before Ben Geary drilled a pitch down the left-field line. Geary tried to stretch the hit into a double, but Fairmont left fielder Ben Gratz hustled to the line and pegged a strike to shortstop Levi Becker. Levi Becker then fired a perfect throw to second baseman Luke Becker for the pivotal out.
"We've had trouble with our relay throws this season, but that was a great one. That play really took the air out of them," said Sukalski.
The Cardinals pounced quickly in the top of the first inning to put the Tigers in an early 2-0 hole before Marshall assembled a comeback.
Tiger right-hander Riley Carpenter issued three walks, gave up a sharp single to Mitch Pfingsten, hurled a wild pitch and allowed Ryan Noll's high-chopping RBI infield hit to watch the Cardinals build a two-run lead.
Gratz proved the second-inning offensive catalyst by lining a leadoff single, moving to second on Luke Becker's bunt, advancing 90 feet on Chirpich's groundout and crossing the plate on Levi Becker's RBI double for a 3-0 cushion.
Marshall answered with a solo run in the home half of the second behind back-to-back singles from Colton Peterson and Aaron Mathiowetz prior to Ben Sanders' sacrifice fly.
Luke Becker then doubled and scored on Levi Becker's RBI fielder's choice in the fourth before the Tigers scratched out two runs in the last of the sixth to inch within 4-3. Carpenter's third hit of the game and Fenske's single led to runs scoring on a Cardinal error and pinch hitter Alex Mathiowetz's sacrifice fly.
Chirpich struck out four, walked four, hit one batter and allowed four runs - two earned - on eight hits in eight innings.
Carpenter gave up five runs - two earned - on seven hits, fanned five and walked six in going the distance for the Tigers.
FHS 210 100 01 - 5 7 2
MAR 010 002 10 - 4 8 2
Spencer Chirpich (WP) and Mitch Pfingsten. Riley Carpenter (LP) and Colton Peterson.
LOB-FHS 9; Marshall 9. 2B-Luke Becker (F), Levi Becker (F). SF-Luke Becker (F), Ben Sanders (M), Alex Mathiowetz (M). SAC-Luke Becker (F), Ryan Noll (F), Leo Zerr (M).