ST. JAMES - Luke Becker and Spencer Chirpich delivered flawless pitching, while Mitch Pfingsten delivered timely hitting to help Class AA, No. 4-ranked Fairmont open its defense of the Section 3 baseball crown with two victories Saturday in St. James.
Luke Becker recorded nine strikeouts in firing a three-hit complete-game gem, while Pfingsten singled home Levi Becker with the sectional opener's only run en route to a 1-0 win over the Blue Earth Area Bucs.
Chirpich then notched a career-best 14 strikeouts en route to pitching a four-hit masterpiece, while Pfingsten unleashed a pivotal bases-loaded double to power the Cardinals to a 7-0 second-round playoff shutout over the Worthington Trojans.
SAFE — Fairmont runner Ryan Noll (14) beats a fielder’s choice throw to Blue Earth Area shortstop David Franta during Section 3AA baseball playoff action Saturday in St. James. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Fairmont (20-1) advances to face Marshall (11-7) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at American Legion Field in Marshall in a winners-bracket game.
Marshall advanced by routing Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop 15-1 in five innings and downing Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove 9-1.
Worthington (7-7) faces RRC/WWG in an elimination game at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Windom.
Blue Earth Area ended its season with a 6-12 record.
"I'd like to thank the St. James school and community for stepping up and hosting all three games (Saturday). We appreciate all of their hard work in getting the field ready," Fairmont mentor Todd Sukalski said in reference to the game-day change of venue due to soggy conditions at Herb Wolf Field in Fairmont.
Ironically, Blue Earth Area ace right-hander Brandyn Olsen nearly dampened Fairmont's chances of earning a fourth consecutive state bid during the single-elimination portion of the tourney.
Olsen, who signed to play baseball for Southwest Minnesota State University next season, and Luke Becker locked up in a one-hour and 10-minute pitcher's duel in Game 1 in St. James.
"Brandyn Olsen's a very good pitcher who's capable of beating a lot of teams," said Sukalski. "Luke and Spencer, however, made sure that we won today by throwing back-to-back shutouts. Once again, outstanding pitching performances by those two guys."
While Olsen maintained his shutout bid by working around Bryce Holm's infield hit and Luke Becker's single in the third, and then Holm's one-out double in the fifth, Luke Becker kept zeroes on the Bucs' scoreboard by working around Seth Anderson's second-inning single and Dallas Barslou's two-out single in the sixth.
Levi Becker, however, triggered the Cardinals' trademark cardiac comeback by drawing a two-out walk during the last of the sixth. Becker swiped second base before scoring the eventual game-winning run when Pfingsten hammered an RBI single into center.
"He (Olsen) gave me a pitch to hit and I was able to drive his curveball into the outfield," said Pfingsten.
Holding a 1-0 lead, Luke Becker worked around Olsen's leadoff single in the top of the seventh to seal his complete-game shutout victory and continue the Cardinals' postseason run.
After Worthington literally stole the game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning via a first-and-third situation to edge St. James 4-3 in Game 2 on Saturday, Chirpich stepped to the mound and derailed the hard-hitting Trojans by firing a four-hit shutout.
"I thought (catcher) Ryan Noll called an excellent game behind the plate against Worthington as did Mitch in Game 1," said Sukalski.
With the hard-throwing Chirpich averaging two strikeouts per inning to quiet Worthington's lethal lumber, Pfingsten produced the clutch hit that ended Trojan right-hander Deron Soderholm's shutout bid in the last of the third.
Brandon Brooks legged out a one-out infield hit before taking second base when Chirpich's grounder was mishandled.
Luke Becker then reached on a fielder's choice before Levi Becker walked to load the bases.
Pfingsten, who went a combined 2-for-6 on the split twinbill, crushed an offering from Soderholm to deep right field to generate three of his four RBIs on the day and stake Chirpich to a 3-0 edge.
Chirpich maintained his pitching rhythm, allowing only a sixth-inning single to Nathan Ray and an infield hit to Aaron Pavelko in the seventh to keep his shutout intact.
Christian Petschke, Holm - who went 4-for-5 on the day - and Brooks each singled in the Fairmont fourth before pinch runner Jordan Voss scored on Chirpich's RBI single back through the box.
Luke Becker added an RBI fielder's-choice grounder that was thrown away trying for a double play to plate Chirpich.
Becker then circled the bases via two throwing errors on his steal of second base.
Chirpich allowed four hits and issued four walks in seven innings of work to earn the complete-game victory.
Soderholm gave up seven runs - only two earned - on nine hits, struck out three and walked one in five-plus innings to take the loss for the Trojans.
BEA 000 000 0 - 0 3 0
FHS 000 001 x - 1 4 0
Brandyn Olsen (LP) and Carter Hanson. Luke Becker (WP) and Mitch Pfingsten.
LOB-FHS 3; BEA 4. 2B-Bryce Holm (F). SAC-Carter Hanson (BEA).
WOR 000 000 0 - 0 4 4
FHS 003 400 x - 7 9 1
Deron Soderholm (LP), Nathan Ray (6) and Ryan Lee. Spencer Chirpich (WP) and Ryan Noll.
LOB-FHS 3; Worthington 9. 2B-Pfingsten (F), Aaron Pavelko (W).