FAIRMONT - The Fairmont Martins and the Blue Earth Pirates have both secured spots in the Minnesota Class 'C' amateur baseball state tournament in St. Cloud.
The single-elimination, 48-team tournament will be played from this Friday through Labor Day.
Fairmont captured the No. 1 seed in Region 13 and a first-round bye via a two-game sweep of the Jackson Bulls.
STATE-BOUND MARTINS — Members of the Fairmont Martins amateur baseball team competing in the Minnesota Class ‘C’ state tournament on Sunday, Aug. 26, in St. Cloud include, front row (l-r): Jordan Petschke, Aaron Siefken, Logan Peymann, Dustin Sobolik, Jon Ellis and Tanner Nawrocki. Back row: Josh Petschke, Jon Traetow (Fox Lake draftee), Shaun McGuire, Max Waletich, Taylor Nawrocki, Adam Schmidt and Ian Bents. Not pictured: Alex Schmidt, Scott Chirpich, Brandon Splinter, Tyler Beck and Andy Reiter. Photo Courtesy of the Schmidt family
Blue Earth, the No. 2 seed in Region 4 after losing to Cannon Falls twice, face Chanhassen at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud.
The Pirates (31-5), who won 10 of their last 13 games to secure a 10th consecutive state bid, make their 11th state appearance in the last 12 seasons.
Cody Sukalski tops Blue Earth's batting order with a whopping .392 batting average to go with 35 runs scored, two home runs, 10 doubles and 20 RBIs.
T.J. Schmidtke follows closely behind Sukalski with a .391 batting average to complement 42 runs scored, 30 RBIs and 14 doubles.
Both players will look for help from Justin Schaible and T.J. Stallman. Schaible is batting .360 with three home runs, 15 runs scored and 15 RBIs, while Stallman is batting .359 with five home runs, 25 runs scored and 30 RBIs.
While the Pirates generate a lot of offense, they will rely on Lee Hodges to stop opponents at the plate. Hodges has a 1.53 ERA and has struck out 79 batters in 95 innings of work. The right-hander has amassed a 10-1 record, and is a key pitcher from last year's state team.
The Pirates were eliminated from last year's tournament in the opening round with a 1-0 loss to the Nisswa Lightning.
This year, Blue Earth coach Todd Schmidtke and his team are hoping to play a few more games in the tournament.
Meanwhile, Fairmont has won six consecutive playoff games, including sweeps of the Tracy Express, Pipestone A's and the Jackson Bulls, to qualify for diamond action in St. Cloud.
Fairmont (29-6) will face the winner of Saturday's 8 p.m. game between Winona and New Munich in a 2 p.m. game on Sunday, Aug. 26.
"Last season, we made the state tournament, but we struggled through the playoffs. We had a five-game series where we got down two games and won three straight to make the tournament," said Fairmont player-coach Adam Schmidt.
The Martins are making their second state tournament appearance in a row and fourth in 10 years.
Fairmont will look to veterans like Shaun McGuire, Aaron Siefken and Schmidt to guide the team.
McGuire, who hit a solo home run to send the Martins' 2011 first-round state game into extra innings against the Winsted Wildcats en route to a 7-6 victory, will start on the mound for Fairmont in this year's state opener.
McGuire was 4-1 in starts this season.
"We have a lot of confidence and experience on our team this year after making the tournament last year and winning a couple games," said Schmidt. "A couple of our younger guys got through their first year at college and going through the playoffs this year, we've all gained a lot of confidence."
With strong pitching, the offense is where Fairmont is looking to improve from last year's tournament.
"We rode our pitching last year to the tournament. And not that we aren't as good this year, but our bats at this point in the season are much better," said Schmidt.
Last year in the state tournament, Fairmont won games over Winsted and St. Cloud to reach the double-elimination part of the tournament.
After winning the first two games, they lost the next two, ending their championship hopes.
"We got down to the final eight teams last year and that was a big deal for us," said Schmidt. "After winning those first couple games, we felt like we had a chance to win it."
With six of the nine players in the Fairmont lineup batting .300 or better, the Martins should be able to score more runs and have a chance at winning the title.
Siefken will lead the charge at the plate with a .391 average, while McGuire's batting a solid .380 from the third spot.
Jon Ellis and Max Waletich are batting .340 and .330, respectively, to add to the Martins' offensive power, while Schmidt is batting .310 and Dustin Sobolik is hitting .300 on the season.
"Both the teams we have a chance to face will be tough. Winona is coming out of a good region, and New Munich is the third seed from the region in Stearns County, so they should have a lot of fans and support there," said Schmidt.