Luverne ends Fairmont’s baseball run in 3AA

LOOKING FOR THE CALL — Fairmont third baseman Eli Anderson (right) looks for the umpire’s call after tagging Luverne’s Colby Crabtree, who was trying to advance two bases on a wild pitch, during a Section 3AA elimination baseball game Tuesday night in Jackson. Crabtree was called out. (Photo by Greg Abel)

JACKSON — Fairmont’s defense turned away Luverne empty-handed — triggered by converting a pair of double plays in the second and fourth innings — during Tuesday night’s next-to-last Section 3AA elimination baseball game.

Luverne and No. 3 batter Ben Serie, however, would not be denied by Fairmont during the bottom of the seventh inning in Jackson.

Serie drilled a towering walk-off double to plate Mark Sterrett with the game-clinching run with one out to propel Luverne into the sectional championship with a 3-2 win over Fairmont.

Luverne (21-3) would have to defeat Paynesville twice on Thursday at Legion Field in Marshall to gain a spot in the Class AA state quarterfinals June 13 at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud.

Fairmont ended its season with a 15-8 overall record.

“When Ben (Serie) keeps his head down, stays on the pitch and drives it to right-center, that’s when he’s at his best at the plate,” said Luverne head coach Mike Wenninger. “Getting ahead in the count during the late innings of a close game is critical, and we were able to take advantage of a leadoff walk in the seventh.”

Sterrett did exactly that by reaching first base on ball four before Gaige Nath dropped down his second pivotal sacrifice bunt to move Sterrett into scoring position.

“Gaige did a nice job of moving runners up (on the bases) for us tonight,” said Wenninger, whose leadoff batter bunted Sterrett into scoring position for Serie, who delivered the tying run with an RBI single in the third. Sterrett had singled to reach base.

With the speedy Sterrett at second base in the seventh, Fairmont co-head coaches Don Waletich and Jerry Brooks issued an intentional walk to Colby Crabtree to set up a force situation. Serie then foiled that strategy by driving a Dalen Keltgen delivery into the right-center gap to end Fairmont’s postseason.

“While we didn’t win the game, it was fun to be playing a close game like that deep in the section tournament,” said Brooks. “Knowing how to handle the pressure in a down-to-the-wire playoff game like this one should help our young players in the future.”

Keltgen set the early offensive tone for Fairmont by lining a one-out single in the top of the first inning, swiped second base and scored on Nick Eversman’s RBI triple into the right-field corner. Eversman later extended Fairmont’s lead to 2-0 via a passed ball on a strikeout.

Luverne answered with a solo run in the bottom half of the first. Nath singled and sprinted all the way to third base when the ball skipped under the Fairmont right fielder’s glove. Crabtree drew a walk from Fairmont starting pitcher Jack Hested and later scored on a wild pitch to trim Luverne’s deficit to 2-1. Hested, however, nailed Crabtree trying to reach third base on the wild pitch to limit the damage.

Second baseman Nick Eversman then played a key role in Fairmont’s defense, turning a pair of double plays with Luverne’s Charlie Reisch on first base. Reisch, who topped all batters by going 3-for-3, collected one-out singles only to be erased when Nathan Nekali drilled two hard-hit grounders. Eversman stepped on the bag and threw to first for the initial double play before taking a flip from shortstop Dalen Keltgen to turn the pivot perfectly on the second gem.

Luverne reliever Jake Haugen then delivered two momentum-halting pitching sequences to prevent Fairmont from snapping the 2-all tie in both the sixth and seventh innings.

Tyson Geerdes singled, wheeled to second base on Eli Anderson’s sacrifice bunt and motored to third when Zac Ringnell’s scorched grounder to shortstop was misplayed. Wenninger replaced starter Derek Lundgren on the mound with Haugen, and senior right-hander got Daniel Reiter to laser a line-drive to a leaping Ben Serie at shortstop to end the threat.

Keltgen later drew a one-out walk in the top of the seventh, Eversman legged out an infield hit and Dustin Schultz walked to load the bases for Fairmont.

Haugen, however, preserved Luverne’s deadlock at 2 by getting pivotal back-to-back strikeouts to give Luverne one last chance to win it in regulation.

Haugen allowed only one hit in 1 2/3 innings of shutout relief to earn the win. Lundgren allowed two runs — one earned — on three hits in 5 2/3 innings worked. He struck out five, walked three and hit two batters.

Hested gave up two runs — just one earned — by scattering seven hits over five frames on the mound. He struck out two and walked one to receive a no-decision for Fairmont.

Keltgen gave up one run on two hits and walked three in 1 1/3 innings of relief to take the loss.

Eversman went 2-for-2 with one RBI, scored one run and drew two walks to top Fairmont’s offense, while Isaiah Bartels went 2-for-3 for Luverne.

FHS 200 000 0 — 2 4 2

LUV 101 000 1 — 3 9 2

Winning run scored with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Jack Hested, Dalen Keltgen (6, LP) and Zac Ringnell. Derek Lundgren, Jake Haugen (6, WP) and Colby Crabtree.

LOB–Fairmont 10; Luverne 10. 2B–Ben Serie (LUV). 3B–Nick Eversman (FHS). SAC–Gaige Nath (LUV) 2, Eli Anderson (FHS).