SLEEPY EYE - Fairmont American Legion Post 36 baseball coach Scott Chirpich's pre-postseason pitching strategy on Monday night paid dividends during Thursday's Sub-State 2 opener in Sleepy Eye.
Chirpich removed starting pitcher Matt Lytle from the mound after hurling four shutout innings against Mankato American Post 11 during the two teams' regular-season finale four days ago in Fairmont.
After saving him three more innings' worth of pitches Monday, Chirpich sent Lytle to the hill on Thursday and the right-hander fired a nine-inning complete-game gem to propel Fairmont to a 6-2 victory over Mankato American.
ANTICIPATION — Fairmont Post 36 hitter Jack Waletich (left) and Mankato American Post 11 catcher Taylor Barnes await a delivery to the plate during first-round American Legion Division I, Sub-State 2 baseball action on Thursday in Sleepy Eye. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
No. 5-seeded Fairmont (7-5) advances to face No. 1-seeded New Ulm Gold in a 1 p.m. winners-bracket game today in Sleepy Eye. Gold posted an 8-0 opening win over Woodbury, who had eliminated Worthington, 6-5, during earlier diamond action Thursday.
In the lower portion of the Division I, Sub-State 2 bracket, No. 6-seeded Owatonna edged No. 3-seeded Sleepy Eye by a 3-2 decision, while No. 2 Mankato National downed No. 7 New Ulm Blue, 9-4.
Mankato National faces Owatonna in a winners-bracket clash at 10 a.m. today in Sleepy Eye, while New Ulm Blue squares off against host Sleepy Eye in an elimination game at 10 a.m. today in Stark.
"Matt Lytle did an outstanding job of scattering hits and stranding American baserunners today," Chirpich said in reference to Mankato's 10 hits - which matched Fairmont's game total - and Post 11's nine runners stranded. "Our defense did a nice job of making the plays behind him (Lytle), while our bats finally came alive during the top of the fifth."
Fairmont built an early 1-0 lead on the strength of Jay Ruen's leadoff single and Tyler Tennyson's RBI double during the second inning before Mankato matched that solo run during the last of the fourth.
Nick Brink and Brett Taylor produced back-to-back singles with one out before a wild pitch and Taylor Barnes' RBI fielder's choice knotted the score at 1-all.
Luke Becker, however, displayed his extra-base hitting prowess to trigger Fairmont's pivotal four-run top of the fifth. Nate Johnson drew a leadoff walk from Mankato starting pitcher Sean Allan before Becker hammered a towering RBI triple to the right-center gap to snap the deadlock.
Parker Monsen then lofted a sacrifice fly to center to plate the fleet-footed Becker for a 3-1 edge, but Post 36 was not done scoring.
Jack Waletich reached second on a throwing error before circling the bases on Ruen's hard-hit RBI single to left. Ruen later wheeled to third on Tennyson's second double of the game before tagging and coming home on Ryan Noll's sacrifice fly to center for a 5-1 lead.
Mankato countered with a solo run during the home half of the fifth. Austin Ellingworth singled with one out, took second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a fielder's choice and scored on Jordan Grams' infield hit up the middle.
Waletich then added an insurance run for Post 36 during the seventh. Waletich singled, took second on a walk to Ruen, advanced 90 more feet on a wild pitch and trotted home on Noll's RBI single to left.
Lytle, who triggered a 1-4-3 double play from the mound during the first frame, received another defensive gem from shortstop Jay Ruen, who stepped on second base for the forceout before firing to first for a double play during the last of the ninth inning.
Lytle allowed two runs on 10 hits, struck out four, walked two and hit one batter in nine innings of work to earn the complete-game victory for Fairmont.
Ruen went 3-for-4 with one RBI and two runs scored to pace the Post 36 offense, while Becker, Tennyson and Noll each supplied two-hit performances.
Grams went 2-for-4 to pace Mankato, while Allan and Dylan Hayenga each produced doubles.
Allan allowed five runs - three earned - on seven hits, struck out three and walked two in 4 1/3 innings to absorb the loss.
FMT 010 040 100 - 6 10 1
MKT 000 110 000 - 2 10 1
Matt Lytle (WP) and Ben Abel. Sean Allan (LP), Brett Taylor (5), Matt Metzler (8) and Taylor Barnes.
LOB-Fairmont 9; Mankato American 9. 2B-Tyler Tennyson (F) 2, Allan (M), Dylan Hayenga (M). 3B-Luke Becker (F). SF-Parker Monsen (F), Ryan Noll (F).