Amateur baseball: Jackson walks off to clinch trip to state
JACKSON — Andy Wolf set the table and Ryan Rasche did the rest.
For the second straight game in the best-of-3 series, the Bulls and Fairmont went into extra innings. Tied at 1-1, Wolf was hit by a pitch in the home half of the 10th. Rasche ripped a two-bagger into the right-center field gap to end it at 2-1 in favor of the Bulls, giving them a 2-1 series victory.
“In a 1-1 game, obviously runs are at a premium,” Wolf said. “Ryan hasn’t hit a gap like that for a while, but as tough as runs were to come by, I was pretty sure it was gonna be down so I decided to take a little gamble. I just started running as hard as I could. I didn’t even see what was going on in right field. I was just watching our coach, Scott Bahr, at third base and he was waving his arm the whole time.”
It was certainly a hard-fought series win for the Bulls. Fairmont took a 1-0 lead in the series with a victory on Wednesday night before Jackson came back from being down 6-2 early Friday night to take 10-8 win in extra innings. That set the stage for Sunday’s rubbermatch between two of the top teams in southwest Minnesota.
“After all that, I just feel relief,” Wolf said. “It’s a shame these two teams had to play each other to qualify.”
Those walk-off heroics may not have been so, however, if not for a clutch showing on the mound by Windom draftee Collin Lovell in the top of the 10th.
The Martins had their golden opportunity when they loaded the bases with nobody out. Lovell struck out the next two batters he faced to ease the pressure. He then got Adam Schmidt to fly out to center to get out of the jam.
“Our pitchers were great all day,” Wolf said. “What a shutdown performance for Collin. I just want to thank him for coming over and helping us out. I think he’s pitched in every one of our playoff games since we drafted him. Talk about a pressure situation.”
After the Martins took a 1-0 lead in the first, the Bulls tied things up in the fifth by scoring in similar fashion, using a hit batsmen to get the offense going.
With two outs on the board, Kyle Luhman was plunked. Jackson’s next batter, Wolf, laced a line drive up the middle for a basehit. The ball skipped past the Fairmont centerfielder, allowing Luhman to speed all the way around for the tying run.
The Bulls nearly broke the tie in the home half of the sixth, but a stellar defensive play kept things knotted at 1-apiece. Ethan Welter got all of a Dustin Pronk offering with Blaise Jacobson on first. The ball was headed over the left field fence until Levi Becker leaped up to rob Welter of a two-run homer. Alertly, he fired the ball back to the infield and the Martins were able to double off Jacobson at first to end the inning.
That set up the thrilling finish.
Lovell got his second straight win in relief, going one and one-third innings, striking out three and allowing one hit. Zach Copley got the start for Jackson and went the first four innings on just one day of rest. He allowed one earned on two hits over four innings of work. Pat Boggess struck out two and surrendered just one hit in three and two-thirds innings of relief work after Kevin Holm pitched a scoreless fifth.
Luke Becker took the loss for Fairmont when he allowed one earned run on one hit in one-third of an inning. Pronk, a Lakefield draftee, gave Fairmont a gutsy performance on the mound in his no-decision. He went nine innings and allowed just one run – which was unearned – on five hits while fanning four.
“Pronk pitched a whale of a game for them,” Wolf said.
Wolf finished the game 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI. Rasche went 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI with Copley and Mike Wierson adding a hit each. Levi Becker and Luke Becker were both 2-for-5 for Fairmont.
Jackson (27-2) still has some business to take care of despite the fact it has clinched a spot in the state tournament. The Bulls open a best-of-3 series against Luverne – which came from behind to defeat Wilmont for a 2-0 series win on Friday – at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. That series will determine seeding in the state tournament and the pre-state draft order. Fairmont and Wilmont will play for the final state tournament spot out of the region, with that series beginning at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Wilmont.
The Bulls won their only meeting with the Redbirds this season 12-2 way back on May 21.
“We played them early in the year and I don’t think they had all of their horses,” Wolf said. “It will be another really good series.”
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Fairmont 001 000 000 0 – 1 4 2
Jackson 000 010 000 1 – 2 6 2