ST. CLOUD -Whether it was the power of dyed moustaches, the velocity of ace right-hander Spencer Chirpich's fastball or the power of Luke Becker and Jay Ruen's bats, No. 2-seeded Fairmont advanced to the Class AA state baseball semifinals.
Chirpich recorded nine strikeouts to befuddle first-time state qualifier Aitkin with a four-hit complete-game gem, while Becker and Ruen combined for five RBIs to propel the Cardinals to a 7-0 state quarterfinal triumph on Thursday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud.
Fairmont (24-1) faces defending state champion and No. 3-seeded Kasson-Mantorville (22-4) in a 2:30 p.m. semifinal today back at Putz Field. The KoMets advanced by posting a 5-3 quarterfinal win over Hawley.
SOLID?CONTACT — Fairmont senior Luke Becker swings at a delivery from Aitkin starting pitcher Jake Lynn during Class AA state baseball quarterfinal action on Thursday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud. Gobbler catcher Logan Quade (14) squats behind the plate. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Top-seeded St. Cloud Cathedral (25-1) squares off against No. 4-seeded Glencoe-Silver Lake (18-4) in the other Class AA state semifinal at noon today at Putz Field. Cathedral compiled a 5-1 first-round win over The Blake School on Thursday, while GSL edged Delano, 4-3.
Exactly one week after hurling a one-hit shutout to pace the Cardinals' 3-0 Section 3 championship victory over Marshall, Chirpich returned to a familiar place on Thursday - the mound at Dick Putz Field.
"It's the same as when I pitched the first game of the 2012 state tournament as a freshman - no nerves out there," said Chirpich, who achieved his mound masterpiece by throwing 99 pitches - 72 for strikes. "You just have to go out and throw your pitches, hit your spots, change speeds and don't let the surroundings bother you."
The Fairmont junior right-hander - who dyed his blonde mustache a dark brown color as did the majority of his teammates - did exactly that, retiring the first eight Gobbler batters he faced before allowing a two-out single to Jacob Hyytinen during the top of the third inning.
Becker, who carried a lofty .542 batting average into the state tourney, then staked the Cardinals to a 2-0 lead during the home half of the third.
Jack Waletich drew a one-out walk before Chirpich was plunked by Aitkin starting pitcher Jake Lynn. Both Waletich and Chirpich advanced 90 feet on a wild pitch before Becker hammered a two-run single up the middle.
Becker then left Aitkin's Logan Quade shaking his head as he returned to the dugout during the top of the fourth.
Quade drilled what appeared to be a leadoff single up the middle, but Becker extended to his left to spear the hard grounder before pegging a strike to first baseman Tyler Tennyson for the out.
After retiring the Gobblers in order during the fourth and fifth frames, Chirpich assisted his own cause during the bottom of the fifth.
Chirpich legged out a bunt hit before wheeling all the way home on Becker's ensuing towering RBI triple to the 380-foot sign in center.
"I thought it was gone, so I started jogging. Then I heard (first base coach Jerry) Brooks yelling at me to get going," said Becker, who has hit nine home runs this spring.
Ruen, who officially went 0-for-1 and was hit by a pitch, then hammered the first of his two sacrifice flies on the game to plate Becker for a 4-0 lead after five completed frames.
Chirpich then managed to work his way out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the top of the sixth inning. Hyytinen walked before Nathan Ehnstrom and Quade delivered back-to-back singles to fill the base paths.
"I ran out of gas in the sixth, but managed somehow to get out of the inning without giving up a run," said Chirpich.
Chirpich notched one of his nine strikeouts - a swinging third strike by Lynn - before getting a groundout to thwart the threat.
Lynn then plunked Ben Abel and Matt Lytle, Nos. 3 and 4 on the game, before Waletich delivered an RBI single to right.
Chirpich then crushed an RBI double to right-center to end Lynn's day on the mound.
Aitkin reliever Nic Bordwell then walked Becker before Ruen lofted his second sacrifice fly to center to extend the Cardinals' lead to 7-0.
Chirpich then worked around Drew Nordean's infield hit and a Fairmont error in the top of the seventh to earn the complete-game victory. Chirpich issued only one walk on the day.
ATK 000 000 0 - 0 4 2
FHS 002 023 x - 7 5 1
Jake Lynn (LP), Nic Bordwell (6) and Logan Quade. Spencer Chirpich (WP) and Ben Abel.
LOB-Fairmont 7; Aitkin 6. 2B-Chirpich (F). 3B-Luke Becker (F). SF-Jay Ruen (F) 2.