Section 3AA baseball: Defense helps Luverne edge Marshall
MARSHALL — Luverne and Marshall had met twice this spring, with each team taking a lopsided win. Tuesday’s Section 3AA quarterfinal between the Southwest Conference rivals was anything but a blowout.
The game held a common theme throughout. The third-seeded Cardinals scored and the No. 1 Tigers retaliated. Finally, a single run in the top of the fifth went unanswered and Luverne went on to take a 4-3 victory to advance to the Section 3AA semifinal.
“We love playing Marshall,” said Gunnar Olson, who won the game in relief for the Cardinals. “During hockey we’ve kind of built up that rivalry. We split during the regular season so we knew we needed to get this one. It’s always nice to beat them.”
Perhaps the most telling statistic in terms of how the Cardinals played, however, was the zero they hung at game’s end in the “error” column.
“We’ve been preaching that since the day they walked through the door to start the season in the third week of March,” Luverne coach Mike Wenninger said. “We knew if we were going to get anywhere in the section tournament, defense was what we were going to have to hang our hats on. We’ve struggled in that area at times this year. I commend the guys on how they stepped up and made plays today.”
Luverne got the scoring started in the top of the second when a Marshall error jump-started the offense. Logan Norman reached on the miscue and came around to score on the Cardinals’ first hit of the ballgame, a single by Andrew Verhey. Starting pitcher Zane Hiller helped his own cause a short time later when he laced a double over the third base bag to score Verhey and put Luverne on top 2-0.
A two-out triple by Connor Winkelman helped the Tigers to a two-run second of their own to knot it up, but Josh Slieter slammed a triple to the gap in right center to get the Cards’ offense going again in the third. Olson blooped a single to center and it was 3-2 in favor of the Luverne. That held until the bottom of the fourth when back-to-back hits for Marshall tied it up at 3-all.
Then Olson, who came on in relief in the third, went into cruise control on the hill. He set down 10 straight Tiger batters to help his team regain and preserve the lead.
“Last year, Coach Wenninger put me in in the section championship against Fairmont with the bases loaded and two outs,” Olson said. “He has that confidence in me that I’m going to go out and pitch my heart out.”
The Cardinals again pulled away. This time, Connor Hoffman pounded a leadoff double and came around to score on a wild pitch to give the lead back to Luverne at 4-3.
It proved to be the difference-maker.
“We did a nice job of manufacturing runs and staying away from crooked numbers,” Wenninger said. “Marshall did a nice job of that, too. That’s high school section baseball.”
Olson went five innings in relief to get the win, allowing one run on two hits while striking out five in the process. Drew Hmielewski took the loss for Marshall. The sophomore went all seven and surrendered four earned runs on seven hits and struck out three.
Hoffman was 2-for-2 with a double and a run scored to pace the Cardinals offense. Slieter was 1-for-3 with a triple and a run with Hiller going 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Winkelman was 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored for the Tigers.
Luverne (15-4 overall) will take on Fairmont/Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta at noon Saturday at Legion Field in Marshall. Finals are set for 5 p.m. June 5 at a location to be determined.
“All I know is we’ve got to play our game,” Olson said. “Our pitcher has to throw strikes and we can’t make any errors. If we do that we should come out fine.”
R H E
Luv. 021 010 0 – 4 7 0
MHS 020 100 0 – 3 7 1