MARSHALL - The cardiac Cardinals completed the ultimate comeback Thursday night to threepeat as the Section 3AA baseball champions.
Class AA No. 5-ranked Fairmont defeated No. 9-ranked New Ulm in back-to-back games, 3-2 in eight innings and 8-3, respectively, at American Legion Field in Marshall to earn a third consecutive trip to St. Cloud.
Fairmont (24-3), which also eclipsed the program's single-season victory total (23), faces the Section 8 champion at 12:30 p.m. next Thursday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud in the Class AA state quarterfinals.
ON?THE?MOUND — Fairmont’s Spencer Chirpich tosses a pitch during the second game against New Ulm in the Section 3AA Championship on Thursday in Marshall.
New Ulm, which finished as the sectional runner-up for the fifth straight year, ended its bid to qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 2002 with a 19-7 record.
"Our kids showed a lot of character today, coming all the way back to win two games over a quality program like New Ulm," said Fairmont mentor Todd Sukalski. "The first game was the best that I've ever been a part of as a coach."
Cardinal freshman right-hander Spencer Chirpich and Eagle left-hander Brody Peterson locked up in a classic pitcher's duel in the championship's opener. Both ace hurlers held the opposing offenses scoreless through five frames before the visiting Cardinals converted the Eagles' lone error of the game into a solo run in the sixth.
Luke Becker singled before Chirpich reached when his sacrifice bunt was thrown away at first base. Levi Becker reached on a fielder's choice to third before Peterson issued a walk to Mitch Pfingsten. Michael Forster then delivered Chirpich to the plate with a sacrifice fly to left for a 1-0 lead.
New Ulm, however, countered in the home half of the sixth when Judd Davis singled, took second on a wild pitch and trotted home on Connor Stark's clutch RBI single to center to knot the game at 1-all.
Jay Ruen staked the Cardinals to a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh by lining a leadoff single to left, advancing 90 feet on Ben Gratz's sacrifice bunt and crossing the plate on Ben Kain's RBI single to right.
Down to its last out in the last of the seventh, Davis hammered a game-tying RBI double into the right-field corner to plate Troy Altmann.
Levi Becker and Forster finally put an end to the extra-inning Game 1 clash in the eighth. Becker hammered a one-out double, tagged and moved to third on Pfingsten's deep flyout and scored the eventual game-winning run on Forster's key RBI single.
Chirpich gave up two earned runs on six hits, struck out four, walked two and hit two batters in seven innings of work to earn the Game 1 win. Luke Becker gave up one hit in working a shutout eighth to earn the save.
Luke Becker started Game 2 on the mound, but exited after giving up three runs on three hits in two innings of work.
"It didn't look good for us, trailing 3-0 heading into the fifth inning of the second game," said Sukalski. "We talked about (New Ulm starter Tanner) Kluis having a no-hitter through four innings, and our guys took it personally to break it up. They didn't realize he had a perfect game going."
After Kluis retired 12 consecutive Cardinals to open the game, Pfingsten drilled a leadoff single to trigger the visitors' one-run fifth at-bat. Courtesy runner Kyle Guetter eventually scored on Jay Ruen's pivotal two-out RBI single to inch within 3-1.
"He (Kluis) wasn't throwing his breaking pitch for a strike, so I sat on a fastball and hit it," said Pfingsten, who continued his hard-hitting ways by collecting a game-best three hits and three RBIs, including a two-run single to cap a three-run Fairmont seventh.
Levi Becker hurled four innings of shutout relief for the Cardinals to earn the victory as the Fairmont offense erupted for four runs on four hits in the sixth to take control of the game at 5-3.
Kain, who had a total of 11 hits on the regular season, produced the third of his four hits on the sectional doubleheader to set the table in the Cardinals' sixth.
Chirpich hammered an RBI double before scoring the tying run on Levi Becker's RBI single. Pfingsten then crushed an inside offering for the go-ahead RBI single to plate Levi Becker. Courtesy runner Kyle Guetter scored an insurance run when Bryce Holm's hot grounder was mishandled.
Chirpich gave up one hit in working a scoreless seventh inning to seal the Cardinals' Game 2 comeback victory.
FHS 000 001 11 - 3 8 0
NU 000 001 10 - 2 7 1
Spencer Chirpich (WP), Luke Becker (8, Sv) and Mitch Pfingsten. Brody Peterson, Chase Meyer (6, LP) and Connor Stark.
LOB - Fairmont 7; New Ulm 8. 2B - Levi Becker (F), Ben Kain (F), Judd Davis (NU), Meyer (NU). SF - Michael Forster (NU). SAC - Chirpich (F), Ben Gratz (F).
FHS 000 014 3 - 8 10 1
NU 120 000 0 - 3 6 1
Luke Becker, Levi Becker (3, WP), Chirpich (7) and Pfingsten. Tanner Kluis (LP), Jimmy Holstein (6) and Stark.
LOB - Fairmont 5, New Ulm 9. 2B - Chirpich (F), Davis (NU). SAC - Luke Becker (F), Holstein (NU).