BY AARON HAGEN
JACKSON -- Ben Serie is not unlike most athletes.
He dreams of making the big play, of being the hero.
In Tuesday’s Section 3AA elimination game, Serie got to live his dream.
The senior hit a game-winning double in the bottom of the seventh inning to send the Luverne baseball team to a 3-2 victory over Fairmont and into Thursday’s section championship.
“It’s everything you think of,” Serie said. “It’s everything you dream of, getting the game-winning hit and you get to go play Thursday for a shot at a section championship.”
Luverne will get a rematch with Paynesville on Thursday. The Bulldogs defeated LHS 5-1 on Saturday.
Fairmont scored two runs in the first inning, but Luverne chipped away -- and aided by Serie twice driving in Mark Sterrett -- came back for the thrilling victory.
“We got down early. Our pitchers kept us in the game. We knew the way we were hitting, we could come back at any time,” Serie said. “We got guys in the right position to score. But we didn’t get a lot of timely hitting.”
Two of the first three Fairmont batters scored in the first inning. Dalen Keltgen singled and scored on Nick Eversman’s triple. Eversman then scored on a passed ball.
However, that’s all FHS would get against Luverne starter Derek Lundgren, who allowed only one more hit in the next four innings, struck out five in five and two-thirds innings. Jake Haugen threw the final one and one-third innings and struck out two.
“Derek Lundgren pitched a fantastic game to keep us in it,” LHS head coach Mike Wenninger said. “He gave up two, but then shut them down from there. Then Jake Haugen comes in. It’s nice to have senior leadership there in that situation.”
Luverne answered in the bottom of the first. Gaige Nath reached on a single and went to third on an error and scored on a wild pitch. In the third, Sterrett led off with a single. Nath sacrificed him to second. Serie hit an opposite-field single to drive in Sterrett and tie the game.
“The first pitch was a curveball and I was trying to do too much with it,” Serie said. “I pulled my head. My coach, Wenninger, told me to take it to right, so the next pitch, I took it to the right-center gap. I like to do that a lot. I’d rather go to right-center than left-center. You wait for it more, you see it and go to right with it.”
Luverne left runners on base in the middle innings, but couldn’t scratch across a run.
“We had some opportunities. Ben Serie did a nice job. When Ben Serie does things well, he hits to right-center well,” Wenninger said. “Mark Sterrett getting on in that inning with a good lead-off walk and Gaige Nath does a great job of getting the bunt down. It’s the little things. We move station to station moving runners and see what happens.”
In the bottom of the seventh, Luverne went back to the same formula. Sterrett drew a lead-off walk and Nath sacrificed him to second.
“Mark has rotated between No. 9 and leadoff. So he understands that situation of starting an inning off,” Wenninger said. “He was anxious to chase that high fastball late in the count, but he held off and got a nice walk. A leadoff walk in the seventh inning, a lot of times in high school baseball, they score anyway. But in the seventh inning, the pressure is on a little bit more.”
FHS walked Colby Crabtree to bring up Serie.
“All I wanted to do was find a gap somewhere,” Serie said. “Hit it hard so the guy from second could score and that’s what happened.”
Serie drove in Sterrett to send LHS to the section finals.
“I saw it drop and looked toward the dugout and saw all the guys, so then I just went straight to them. It was a lot of fun,” Serie said. “It felt really good, but I want it to happen Thursday now, too, and go to state.”