FAIRMONT - New Ulm baseball mentor Jay Backer experienced both sides of a double-edged sword during Thursday's season-opener against Section 3AA and South Central Conference rival Fairmont.
Chase Meyer hammered a two-run triple to break open a scoreless pitchers' duel in the top of the fourth inning, but the Eagles' cleanup batter exited the game after injuring his hamstring on the pivotal play.
Meyer's extra-base blast, Judd Davis' RBI triple in the fifth and ace right-hander Tanner Kluis' four shutout innings engineered New Ulm's 3-1 triumph over the Cardinals at Herb Wolf Field in Fairmont.
CONTACT — Fairmont batter Ben Abel makes contact with a delivery during season-opening South Central Conference baseball action against New Ulm on Thursday at Herb Wolf Field in Fairmont. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"The difference in today's game was we couldn't come up with the big hit with runners on base and New Ulm did," said Fairmont mentor Todd Sukalski, whose lineup stranded 10 runners on the low-scoring clash. "It's tough opening against one of the best pitchers (Kluis) we'll see all season.
"You can't squander opportunities against good pitching."
After Fairmont starting pitcher Luke Becker worked a 1-2-3 top of the first inning, the Cardinal offense loaded the bases with one out during the home half.
Spencer Chirpich led off with a single, Becker reached on a hard-hit grounder that was misplayed and Jay Ruen legged out an infield hit to the hole at short to fill the bags.
"Their shortstop (Davis) definitely saved a run by making a diving stop on Jay's hit and kept it from going into the outfield," said Sukalski.
The crafty Kluis then coaxed an infield popout and a groundout to escape unscathed after one full frame.
With the game scoreless, Becker exited the mound after pitching three innings of one-hit baseball, including three strikeouts and no walks.
New Ulm's Grant Kannegiesser and Kluis then drew back-to-back walks from Fairmont reliever Jay Ruen to open the fourth before Meyer drilled a towering two-run triple to deep center.
Ruen later made a diving spear and Cardinal first baseman Tyler Tennyson stretched out to snag a sinking liner along the foul line to limit the Eagles' damage to 2-0.
Brach Kraus, who went 2-for-3, later legged out a bunt hit with one out in the New Ulm fifth before wheeling all the way home on Davis' RBI triple to center.
Kluis, who worked around Becker's third-inning single and Jack Waletich's fourth-inning hit, then gave way to Tyler Dittich on the mound in the bottom of the fifth.
Kannegiesser, who moved from catcher to first base, made a fence-evading catch on a foul popup to prevent a Cardinal rally in the fifth.
Dittrich, however, issued walks to Ruen, Waletich and Parker Monsen during the home half of the sixth only to work out of the bases-loaded jam via an infield popout and a strikeout.
Fairmont prevented a shutout during its last at-bat as Chirpich drew a leadoff walk from New Ulm reliever Wyatt Peterson, took second base on a wild pitch and scored on Ruen's towering RBI double to the left-center gap.
Ruen went 2-for-3 to top the Cardinals' five-hit effort.
Meyer went 2-for-2 with two RBIs before leaving the game for the Eagles, while Davis and Kraus each supplied two hits.
Kluis recorded five strikeouts and issued only one walk in four shutout innings of four-hit baseball to earn the win.
Peterson struck out one and gave up one run on one hit in closing out the seventh to net the save for New Ulm.
Ruen gave up three runs on three hits and walked two in two innings of relief to take the loss.
Chirpich walked one and allowed two hits in two shutout innings of relief for the Cardinals.
Fairmont (0-1) faces Mountain Lake Area at 9 a.m. Saturday in the the Martin County West Invitational in Welcome. New Ulm (1-0) travels to Marshall on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. game at American Legion Field.
NU 000 210 0 - 3 6 1
FHS 000 000 1 - 1 5 0
Tanner Kluis (WP), Tyler Dittrich (5), Wyatt Peterson (7, Sv) and Grant Kannegiesser, Luke Irmiter (5). Luke Becker, Jay Ruen (4, LP), Spencer Chirpich (6) and Ben Abel.
LOB-Fairmont 10; New Ulm 5. 2B-Ruen (F). 3B-Chase Meyer (NU), Judd Davis (NU). SAC-Jackson Yackley (NU) 2.
Kale Fritz and Clayton Maakestad each produced RBI doubles to help guide Fairmont to a 9-5 victory over New Ulm during junior varsity action Thursday in Fairmont.
Bailey Koppen and Chris Andrews each supplied RBI singles to the Cardinals' winning ways, while Eli Green and Ryan Brooks each chipped in a hit.
Mark Washa allowed one earned run on one hit in two innings of relief to net the win for Fairmont. Washa struck out two and walked one.
Nate Johnson started, allowing three runs on two hits in three innings for the Cardinals. Johnson fanned two and walked three. Carter Lloyd allowed one run on one hit, struck out two and walked one in two innings of relief.
Fairmont (1-0) competes in the Martin County West Invitational on Saturday in Welcome.
St. Peter 14, Blue Earth Area 3 - Ryan Hoehn and Alex Hoehn combined for six of the Saints' 16 hits to pace a 14-3 South Central Conference victory over the Bucs on Thursday in Winnebago.
Ryan Hoehn went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, Alex Hoehn also went 3-for-4, while Ben Johnson went 2-for-4 with two RBIs for St. Peter.
David Franta went 2-for-4 to top BEA's six-hit effort, while teammate Jose Rios went 1-for-1 with two RBIs. Quinn Huisman went 2-for-2 with a run scored, while Seth Anderson chipped in a hit for the Bucs.
Huisman allowed five earned runs on seven hits, struck out two, walked one and hit two batters in four innings of work to absorb the loss for BEA.
Saint starting pitcher Tom Steidler gave up one run on three hits, recorded eight strikeouts and walked two in six innings of work to earn the victory.
Blue Earth Area (2-1, 0-1 SCC) travels to Northrop on Monday to face Martin Luther/Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman, while St. Peter (1-1, 1-0) faces Tri City United on Tuesday in Montgomery.
St. Peter 100 431 5 - 14 16 3
BE Area 000 100 2 - 3 6 5
Tom Steidler (WP), Brendan Reese (7) and Reese, Sam Wenner (7). Quinn Huisman (LP), David Franta (5), Seth Anderson (7), Alec Huber (7) and Kellen Jacobs.