CANNON FALLS - Lee Hodges' pivotal bases-loaded double during the bottom of the eighth inning propelled the Blue Earth Pirates to the Region 4C amateur baseball championship on Sunday.
Hodges slugged a three-run extra-base hit to transform Blue Earth's 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead over the Hampton Cardinals before teammate Trent Sonnicksen added an insurance run via an RBI single in Cannon Falls.
Hodges' three-hit, three-RBI performance, combined with right-hander Cody Sukalski's complete-game pitching effort, paced the Pirates' 5-3 triumph over the Cardinals in the regional finals.
Blue Earth (19-2) earned a first-round bye in the Minnesota Class 'C' state tournament before facing either Region 8 third-place finisher Fort Ripley or the Region 15 runner-up at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22, at Tiger Park in Belle Plaine.
Ironically, the Pirates loaded the bases on T.J. Stallman's leadoff single, followed by one-out hits by Brandyn Olsen, Aaron Wendt and Hodges during the bottom of the first inning, but managed to plate only Stallman on Wendt's RBI hit against Hampton right-hander Grant Martinson. Martinson escaped by getting back-to-back popups to leave the Cardinals only trailing 1-0.
Hampton combined three consecutive hits, with a hit batter and a fielder's choice to grab a 2-1 lead during the top of the third inning.
Leadoff batter David Barry, who collected four of the Cardinals' 15 hits on the game, drilled a leadoff double to the right-center gap before Rhett Hebig singled to leave runners at the corners.
Josh Chatfield, who went 3-for-5, singled to left to plate Barry to knot the game at 1-all. Pat Strey was hit by a Sukalski offering to load the bases before Hebig crossed the plate on Cam Hall's RBI fielder's choice for a 2-1 edge.
Sukalski worked out of the jam as the Pirates' defense turned the first of its three double plays on the game. Second baseman T.J. Stallman gloved a liner off Brandon Morgan's bat before flipping to shortstop T.J. Schmidtke to double off the straying Cardinal runner.
The Cardinals loaded the bases again via consecutive one-out singles by Austin Hebig, Joe Schlosser and Barry during the top of the sixth, but Pirates right fielder Aaron Wendt and first baseman Lee Hodges combined to deliver an inning-ending double play. Wendt caught a flyball off Rhett Hebig's bat before pegging a throw to Hodges, who relayed a strike to catcher Bobby Olson for the putout at the plate.
Stallman and Schmidtke then combined up the middle again to turn a 4-6-3 double play to thwart Hampton's leadoff single by Chatfield during the seventh.
The Cardinals, however, did scratch out a solo run during the top of the eighth to extend their lead to 3-1. Austin Hebig drew a one-out walk, swiped second base one out later and crossed the plate on Barry's fourth hit of the game - an RBI single to center.
Blue Earth, however, countered by loading the bases with no outs during the home half of the eighth. Stallman walked, Schmidtke reached on an error and pinch hitter David Franta beat out a sacrifice bunt for a hit to fill the base paths. Martinson got a popout, but Hodges lined a bases-clearing double into the right-center gap to swing a one-run lead to the Pirates.
Hodges later took third on John Franta's single to left before crossing the plate on Sonnicksen's second hit of the game.
Sukalski allowed three earned runs on 15 hits, stranded a staggering 13 runners, struck out one, walked two and hit two batters in nine innings to notch the complete-game victory for Blue Earth.
Martinson gave up five runs - two earned - on 10 hits, struck out seven and walked one in 7 2/3 innings to take the loss for Hampton.
HMP 002 000 010 - 3 15 2
BE 100 000 04x - 5 10 0
Grant Martinson (LP), Pat Strey (8) and Rhett Hebig. Cody Sukalski (WP) and Bobby Olson, T.J. Stallman (7).
LOB-Blue Earth 5; Hampton 13. 2B-Lee Hodges (BE), David Barry (H). SAC-T.J. Schmidtke (BE), Kane Malo (BE), Brandon Morgan (H), Cam Hall (H).