AMATEUR BASEBALL: Cardinals take 2-0 series leadWILMONT — Riding another dynamite pitching performance from their ace — right-hander Justin Saufley — and scoring a pair of first-inning runs Friday night, the Wilmont Cardinals claimed an exciting 2-1 victory over the Fairmont Martins in Game 2 of their Region 13C best-of-five amateur baseball playoff series at Butts Probst Field.
By: Lucas Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WILMONT — Riding another dynamite pitching performance from their ace — right-hander Justin Saufley — and scoring a pair of first-inning runs Friday night, the Wilmont Cardinals claimed an exciting 2-1 victory over the Fairmont Martins in Game 2 of their Region 13C best-of-five amateur baseball playoff series at Butts Probst Field.
Wilmont (23-7) now holds a 2-0 lead and can win the series Sunday afternoon, as Game 3 is scheduled to be played at 2 p.m. at Fairmont’s Herb Wolf Park. If the Martins win, Game 4 will be played Tuesday night (7:30 p.m.) back in Wilmont.
Saufley, who allowed six hits, no walks and an unearned run, struck out eight batters in hurling nine strong innings. Featuring an electric fastball and a hard-breaking curveball, Saufley improved to 10-0 with his complete-game gem.
“I was able to pitch out of some jams, and it was a good thing that we scored our two runs early in the game,” summed up Saufley, who also serves as Wilmont’s manager. “(Shaun) McGuire really settled into a groove for Fairmont, and it was a low-scoring affair. But we made enough plays defensively and held on against a good-hitting lineup like the Martins have.”
McGuire (six strikeouts, two walks) also pitched a complete game, scattering eight hits and allowing just the two first-inning runs in eight solid frames for Fairmont (29-6) — which went 17-1 in league play during the regular season and won both the First Nite League regular-season and tournament championships.
Diekmann’s two-run single lifts Wilmont to quick lead
Wilmont, which won the Gopher League regular-season crown and finished as the tournament runner-up, struck first with a pair of runs in the opening inning to take control early.
Nate Stoll smacked a one-out single to left field, and Steven Kremer followed by coaxing a walk. McGuire then registered his first strikeout before a passed ball during Adam Diekmann’s ensuing at-bat allowed the runners to advance to second and third with two outs.
Diekmann came through in the key spot, driving a 3-2 pitch over the second baseman’s head into right-center field. Stoll and Kremer scored on the play, as Diekmann’s two-run single lifted the Cardinals to a 2-0 lead.
“It felt good to hit the ball well with runners in scoring position,” Diekmann said. “I was able to hit the ball into a good location, which allowed both runners to score and get us out to a nice lead right away.”
Joe Ahrens then singled up the middle, but McGuire fanned the next batter to end the inning.
Saufley, who worked around a two-out double by McGuire in the top of the first, pitched a 1-2-3 frame in the second — striking out a pair of batters and inducing a ground-ball out to Diekmann at shortstop. Eleven of the 27 outs that Saufley recorded came on ground balls.
Saufley pitched scoreless frames in the third and fourth, as well — matching McGuire, who worked around two-out base hits by Lucas Henning (2-for-4, single, second) and Diekmann (2-for-4, double, third) and a lead-off walk issued to Ryan Swanson in the fourth.
Fairmont, which didn’t commit an error in the game, then took advantage of a Cardinals’ defensive miscue in the top of the fifth. Aaron Siefken reached on a two-base infield error to start the frame, hustling to second base and later scoring on a one-out RBI single to left field by Ian Bents.
Trailing 2-1, the Martins had runners on first and second with two outs following another Wilmont error later in the inning. But Saufley ended the threat by notching his fourth strikeout of the night.
Fairmont continues to threaten; Wilmont can’t add to lead in late innings
Wilmont was shut down by McGuire the rest of the way, collecting just a trio of singles — one apiece by Swanson (sixth), Henning (seventh) and Kremer (seventh) — from the fifth inning on. McGuire retired the Cardinals in order during both the fifth and eighth frames, inducing five of his 13 ground-ball outs.
“He pitched really well,” Saufley said. “This was a great ballgame, just like the first one was. That’s what you expect during playoff baseball, as good pitching tends to limit good hitting most of the time.”
Indeed it does, and Saufley was sure tested himself in each of the final four innings. Fairmont’s Jon Wilson belted a one-out double in the sixth, Alex Schmidt reached on a two-out, infield single in the seventh, and Jon Ellis created havoc by reaching on a bunt single — and advancing to second on an errant throw — to begin the eighth.
But Saufley wiggled out of trouble each time — most impressively, though, in the eighth. With Ellis standing on second base and no outs, the Martins had their 3-4-5 hitters (McGuire, Wilson and Adam Schmidt) due up.
However, Saufley struck out McGuire on a high fastball, fanned Wilson on a bending curveball, and got Schmidt to groundout to Swanson at third base.
Fairmont threatened yet again in the ninth, as Siefken ripped the first pitch he saw into right field for a lead-off single. A sacrifice bunt by Taylor Morris put the potential tying run at second.
Saufley, though, worked out of another tough spot by retiring the next two batters on K and F-9 scoring plays, as Wilmont held on for a 2-1 win.
“I have always been able to pitch myself out of jams, and it helps to have a great defense like we have,” explained Saufley. “I went to my fastball more often late in the game and just tried to make it tough for them to make solid contact. It worked out for us, and we got a big win against a very good team.”
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