MARSHALL - Class AA, No. 4-ranked Fairmont needed just one more strike Saturday to reach the Section 3 championship baseball game.
Kendall Meyer and Josh Slieter, Luverne's Nos. 3 and 4 batters, however, foiled three-time defending sectional champion Fairmont's plans.
Trailing 3-2, Meyer kept Luverne's chances alive by lining a single to right with two outs in the bottom of seventh inning at American Legion Field in Marshall.
DRILLING A DOUBLE — Levi Becker drills an RBI double to stake Fairmont to a 3-2 lead during fifth-inning Section 3AA baseball playoff action Saturday at American Legion Field in Marshall. Unfortunately for the No. 4-ranked Cardinals, Luverne rallied with two runs in the seventh to win. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)
Slieter then slugged a game-tying RBI triple into the right-center gap to plate Meyer before scoring the winning run on a pitch in the dirt to propel Luverne to a 4-3 comeback win over Fairmont.
Fairmont mentor Todd Sukalski and his Cardinals (21-2) return to Marshall on Tuesday to face Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta - an 11-2 winner over Pipestone Area - in a 7 p.m. elimination game for the right to challenge Luverne for the sectional crown at 5 p.m. Thursday at American Legion Field.
"It's tougher, but we've been in this position before," said Sukalski, whose lineup emerged from the playback bracket to sweep two games from New Ulm to capture the 2012 sectional championship.
Ironically, Luverne was the last team to capture the Section 3 crown prior to Fairmont's current threepeat.
"I told our guys that there's no time limit in the game of baseball, so battle to the very last out," said Luverne head coach Mike Wenninger. "Obviously, Slieter delivering the RBI triple to tie the game and then scoring the winning run on the wild pitch was huge, but Kendall's at-bat was just as important.
"He (Meyer) just kept battling with two strikes on him and two outs before he singled to keep us alive for at least one more at-bat."
Down by one run, Brett Heronimus reached base on a wind-blown infield hit to open Luverne's seventh, but Wenninger opted not to bunt his speedy centerfielder to second.
"He's one of our 'go' guys that has a green light (to steal a base) if he feels he can get a good jump," Wenninger said in reference to Heronimus.
Fairmont catcher Ryan Noll proved more than worthy of Heronimus' attempt to steal second base, pegging a strike to record the first out of the bottom of the seventh.
Fairmont ace right-hander Spencer Chirpich then got a seemingly pivotal out when Skyler Wenninger - who was 3-for-3 prior to the seventh - smacked a deep fly ball to left that Fairmont outfielder Brandon Brooks tracked down.
Meyer and Slieter then delivered back-to-back clutch hits to seal Luverne's comeback victory with two outs.
Fairmont had grabbed a 3-2 lead with a solo run in the top of the fifth frame. Brooks received a leadoff walk before eventually being replaced on the base paths via Luke Becker's fielder's choice.
Luke Becker swiped second base before Levi Becker delivered his second hit of the playoff clash - a key RBI double - to deep center field to plate his younger brother with the go-ahead run.
In fact, Luke Becker accounted for all of Fairmont's runs on the day, stepping on the plate for the team's initial tally on the heels of his solo home run with one out in the top of the first.
Luke Becker later singled, wheeled to third on Levi Becker's single and crossed the plate on Mitch Pfingsten's RBI fielder's choice during the top of the third.
Luverne countered behind a Heronimus walk, Skyler Wenninger's single and Slieter's RBI single in the home half of the first.
Luverne then took a 2-1 edge when Matt Overgaard smacked the first of his three singles to lead off the last of the second inning. Overgaard moved to second on Reed Skattum's sacrifice bunt before eventually scoring on Wenninger's RBI single to left.
Ironically, Gunnar Olson, who recorded the final out in the top of the seventh, received the victory for Luverne. Olson followed left-hander Zane Hiller, who gave up one earned run on two hits, fanned two and walked three in 2 2/3 innings of relief.
Heronimus started on the mound for Luverne, allowing two runs on four hits, walked two and fanned one in 4-plus innings.
Chirpich gave up four runs - three earned - on 11 hits, struck out three and walked two in 6 2/3 innings to absorb his first loss in six outings on the season.
Jay Ruen and Bryce Holm each added a hit for Fairmont.
FHS 101 010 0 - 3 6 1
LUV 110 000 2 - 4 11 3
Winning run scored with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Spencer Chirpich (LP, 5-1) and Ryan Noll. Brett Heronimus, Zane Hiller (5), Gunnar Olson (7, WP) and Logan Norman.
LOB-Fairmont 8, Luverne 7. 2B-Levi Becker (F). 3B-Josh Slieter (L). HR-Luke Becker (F). SAC-Reed Skattum (L).