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Section 3A Baseball: Windom outplays Springfield

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MARSHALL -- Thanks to another sparkling pitching performance by senior righthander Collin Lovell, along with a timely base hit from senior second baseman Andy Pfeffer -- followed by the game's lone error on the sharply-stroked single -- the Windom Eagles earned state tournament advancement in high school baseball for the first time in 26 years, claiming a 1-0 victory over Springfield Thursday in the Section 3A championship game at Legion Field.

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The win was Windom's fifth straight, without a defeat, in the double-elimination tournament and improved the Eagles' overall record to 13-8.

Springfield, which rallied back through the loser's bracket, finished a fine spring with an overall mark of 20-5, including a 5-2 record in the sectional playoffs.

Lovell, who has struck out 116 batters in 75 innings this season, was in command throughout the fast-moving contest -- which lasted just one hour and 10 minutes.

"My arm felt great today and I was able to get most of my pitches in the zone where I wanted them," exclaimed an elated Lovell after accepting congratulations from numerous fans, friends and family members. "I tried to stay focused and just have fun pitching, rather than thinking about the score or the situation in the last few innings."

After surrendering solo singles in both the second and third innings Thursday, Lovell walked back-to-back Tiger hitters with one out in the top of the fifth frame.

But Eagle catcher Danny Kneeland threw the first guy out attempting to steal second. Lovell then recorded his second strikeout of the inning, notching strike three with one of his patented breaking balls, which finish low and away, and Springfield was again unable to get a base runner past first.

"Collin pitched great, like he has all season," beamed a jubilant Brad Schlomann, now in his 11th season as the Eagles' head coach. "He has great stuff, fine control and is able to keep runners close to first with his style of delivery and his quick pickoff move. Not many guys steal bases off of Collin."

Lovell finished the game with nine strikeouts and four one-two-three innings, retiring the Tigers in order in the top of the first, fourth, sixth and seventh.

Meanwhile, the Eagles were also being held in check by the pitching prowess of Springfield's Isaac Kirschstein, who put Windom out in order in four of the six innings, keeping the bases clear in the first, fourth, fifth and sixth frames.

Kirchstein notched four strikeouts, did not allow a walk and gave up just two singles -- one in the second and one in the third.

But he started the bottom of the third by hitting the first two Eagle batters --- freshman third baseman Sam Huska and senior left fielder Jacob Johnson, Windom's number seven and eight hitters, respectively. Johnson had two strikes on him when he was beaned, moving Huska to second --- the only runner to advance that far the entire game.

After recording a strikeout for the first out, Kirchstein faced Pfeffer --- who Schlomann moved up from second to leadoff in the order for Thursday's game.

An outstanding all-around student-athlete at WHS, Pfeffer delivered, drilling a sharp single into right field --- which was bobbled on the attempted throw in, allowing Schlomann to send Huska to the plate.

The throw was late and off line, as Huska sprinted home with what turned out to be game's only run.

"What a great piece of hitting by Andy," praised Schlomann. "He's such a great all-around kid, just a 'grinder' that sticks with things and does what it takes to help his team."

"Andy's been hitting the ball well in the playoffs," praised assistant coach Dane Nielsen. "He was 3-for-4 last game and is the kind of guy we want at the plate in a clutch situation."

"The pitch was on the outside edge right down the middle and I was able to hit it the opposite way," explained the right-handed hitting Pfeffer of the game's most timely hit. "I am glad in went through for the single and happy that Sam was able to score after the ball was dropped."

Kirchstein was able to get the next two Windom hitters to pop up and fly out, respectively, stranding Johnson on third and Pfeffer at first.

"We are fortunate to get that one run when we did," Schlomann said. "Otherwise, with the way those two guys (Lovell and Kirschstein) were pitching, we might have played a long time before this game was decided."

Freshman Devin Nielsen, Windom's designated hitter --- batting in the No. 5 slot --- cracked the Eagles' only other hit, a solid single down the right-field line with one out in the bottom of the second.

But other than Nielsen, Huska, Johnson and Pfeffer, no other Eagle reached base.

Cole Milbrath had a two-out single for Springfield in the top of the second and Dylan Wersal slapped a one-out single for the Tigers in the third.

But other than Milbrath, Wersal, Sam Baler (fifth-inning walk) and Wersal (fifth-inning walk), no other Springfield hitters got on base.

And, thanks to Kneeland's throw (gunning down Baler), no Tiger reached second base.

Five of Springfield's final six outs came on fine fielding plays by the Eagles, as shortstop Brandon Thongvivong came up with a pair of gems to start the top of the sixth before Lovell notched his ninth strikeout of the game.

In the top of the seventh, Eagle first baseman Travis Janssen made a fantastic running catch on a foul pop for the first out, Pfeffer made a play on a high hopper at second for the second out, and a sharp grounder to Janssen ended the game --- and set off a joyful celebration for the Eagles and their fans.

"This is a great group of kids, who love to play baseball and have really stuck together," concluded Schlomann, who himself played in the state baseball tournament as pitcher for Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin 20 years ago in 1993. "There were a lot of similarities between one of our games in the section tournament that year and this game. So this is really nice."

For Windom --- which finished as the Section 3A runner-up last year and has had several strong tournament runs in recent years, including 2006, 2005 and 2002, after claiming runner-up honors in 2000 --- it's the first trip back to the state tournament since 1987, when the Eagles capped a five-year run of Region 2 championships.

Windom earned the consolation trophy in its first state tournament appearance in 1970, playing in the one-class system. The Eagles also played in the 1976 state tournament before its five-year run from 1983-1987, finishing second, first, first, third and fourth during that dynasty cycle.

The Eagles will open state-tournament play Thursday at the Mini-Met in Jordan against an opponent (and time) yet to be determined after the Class A seedings are completed.

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