Section baseball: Luverne, Windom Area to play for titles
MARSHALL -- Rarely do section tournament victories materialize in such dramatic fashion.
The Luverne Cardinals used a two-out, two-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning to upend top-seeded Fairmont 4-3 in the semifinals of the Section 3AA baseball tournament Saturday. And the Windom Eagles made a first-inning run hold up in a tense 1-0 triumph over Lac Qui Parle Valley.
Now that the celebrating has died down just a little bit, the Cardinals and Eagles prepare to play for their respective sectional championships later this week.
On Tuesday at Marshall, Fairmont and Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta play a 7 p.m. game for the right to advance to play Luverne at 5 p.m. on Thursday at Marshall or Windom. If Luverne loses that game, a true Section 3AA title game will take place later that evening.
In a 5 p.m. Section 3A game Tuesday at Marshall, Lac qui Parle and Springfield are scheduled to play for the right to play Windom Area on Thursday. Thursday's championship is planned for 5 p.m. in Granite Falls, with another game to follow if necessary.
Here's a rundown on how Luverne and Windom Area have gotten to where they are now:
Fairmont and Luverne both looked unbeatable heading into Saturday's game. Something had to give.
No. 1 seed Fairmont, 21-1 heading into the contest, appeared to be the obvious favorite with sophomore pitching sensation Spencer Chirpich on the mound. Luverne, however, took an 18-4 record into the game with a 10-game winning streak.
The visiting team, Fairmont, opened in the top of the first with a Luke Becker home run. Luverne answered in the bottom of the first with a Josh Sleiter RBI, then scored again in the bottom of the second after a Matt Overgaard single, Reid Skattum sacrifice bunt and Skyler Wenninger RBI single. The score was 2-2 after three innings and 3-2 in favor of Fairmont in the fifth.
FHS still led 3-2 as Luverne batted in the bottom of the seventh --with nobody on base and two outs and two strikes on the hitter, Kendall Meyer.
Meyer singled. Next up, Sleiter tripled to bring Meyer home and tie the game. Two pitches later Chirpich unleashed a wild pitch and the game was over. Gunnar Olson, who came on in relief for Luverne and threw only two pitches, was the winning pitcher.
"We knew it would be a tough game," said Fairmont head coach Todd Sukalski on Sunday. "We hope to play them again."
Disappointed as he was at the outcome, Sukalski praised the gritty performance turned in by LHS. He indicated that he was impressed by the rival Cardinals' team speed and the very fact that they were able to collect 10 hits off the hard-throwing Chirpich --while pulling the ball fairly often.
"To get 10 hits off Chirpich is quite a feat. I was really impressed at how they hit the ball off Chirpich. That just hasn't happened this year," he said, adding, "I'm sure they had the pitching machine cranked up a notch to get ready for him."
No, the pitching machine wasn't cranked up in preparation for Chirpich, Luverne head coach Mike Wenninger said. Instead, LHS went through its normal preparations.
"We prepare for everybody the same. We go through a lot of hitting stations. You've got to have good kids," Wenninger explained.
Wenninger pointed out that Saturday marked the third time over the last two seasons that his team faced Chirpich, but it was the first time the Cards were able to beat him.
Fairmont has won the section tournament three years in a row.
"Those are the thrillers," Wenninger said about Saturday's game. "Everybody thought we were done, the fans thought we were done ... But the players are still playing. That's the nice thing about baseball, there's no time clock to tell us we're done."
Wenninger said the strength of his team has much to do with the fact that "every one of our kids is athletic." That allows him to move his players around easily and not suffer from it defensively. Regarding Fairmont -- which is still alive and angling for a rematch -- he remains wary.
"I wouldn't put it past, to see Fairmont again," he said. "But they have to know, like I've told the kids, we won the last one but they won the last three (section titles). So I think we owe 'em one more."
The wind was blowing in at 10 to 15 miles per hour Saturday, and scoring was at a premium.
Windom Area, 12-8, scored the only run of the game in the bottom of the first inning. Andy Pfeffer hit a one-out single, then advanced to second on a slow infield roller. Collin Lovell then batted a slow roller to second base, which was thrown away for an error. Pfeffer scored.
"You just don't know how important that little thing will be," said Windom Area head coach Brad Schlomann later.
Lovell, a senior, went the distance on the mound as did Lac qui Parle Valley's Ben Morken. Both pitchers allowed just four hits, with Lovell walking four and striking out 10 and Morken walking one and striking out eight.
Lovell moved his personal record to 8-2 and his earned run average to 2.12 with the performance.
Schlomann praised the play of his fine senior shortstop, Brandon Thongvivong, who made two outstanding defensive plays. In the fourth inning as Lac qui Parle Valley had runners on first and second base with two out, Thongvivong dove into left-centerfield to make a catch of a blooping liner that would have scored two runs had he not caught it. Then in the seventh inning, Thonvivong caught another line drive that was going up the middle.
Pfeffer went 3-for-3 at the plate to lead the Eagles offense.
"The veterans have kind of taken it to the next level," Schlomann said of his team. "And hopefully, they can continue to do that."