Martins nip A’s in Region 13C baseball opener

TRAPPED — Fairmont third baseman Tyler Tennyson (right) flips the baseball to Martins starting pitcher Josh Smith (left) after the teammates trapped Pipestone A’s runner Dom Freese in a rundown between third base and home during Game 1 of a best-of-3 Region 13C amateur baseball playoff series Wednsday night at Herb Wolf Field in Fairmont. Tennyson and Smith combined to record the out on Freese, who was trying to score from second base on a wild pitch. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Fairmont starting pitcher Josh Smith and Martins closer Spencer Chirpich displayed no signs of rust during Wednesday night’s amateur baseball regional opener after lengthy absences from the hill.

The hard-throwing Smith displayed outstanding command of the strike zone, notching 14 strikeouts without issuing a walk in eight yeoman innings of work at Herb Wolf Field in Fairmont.

The former Iowa Central and North Dakota State right-hander scattered seven hits and allowed two unearned runs to earn the win, while Abilene Christian University senior-to-be Chirpich zipped through a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to net the save in the Martins’ 3-2 Game 1 triumph over the Pipestone A’s.

The No. 4-seeded Martins (20-4) travel to Pipestone for Game 2 of the best-of-3 Region 13C playoff series against the No. 5-seeded A’s (14-7) at 7:30 p.m. Friday night.

“It’s been nearly a month since I’ve pitched, so it could prove interesting tonight,” said a grinning Smith, who last stepped to the mound during a 2-1 pitchers’ duel against Windom’s Luke Gilbertson at Wolf Field on June 28.

Smith struck out eight, walked one and surrendered two unearned runs in his seven-inning stint against the Pirates 26 days ago.

“I went on vacation, in addition to just getting a new place to live and a new job, since I pitched last,” said Smith, who will make the residential move to Mankato before taking over as the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown High School head baseball coach.

Smith retired the first seven Pipestone batters he faced Wednesday night — four of five via swinging third strikes — before the A’s capitalized on the first of four Martins’ errors on the postseason clash.

Carter Colemar and Dom Freese generated back-to-back singles with one out in the top of the third inning before moving into scoring position on a grass-hugging comebacker to Smith. Colemar crossed the plate on Smith’s ensuing wild pitch before Freese fell halfway between third base and the plate on the play. Fairmont catcher Ethan Hurn, third baseman Tyler Tennyson and Smith, however, combined to nail Freese via a short-lived rundown.

“Josh Smith dominated on the mound tonight,” said Martins player/coach Levi Becker. “He did a great job of spotting his fastball and dropping his curveball into the strike zone for a lot of outs.

“He and Spencer combined for 16 strikeouts without walking anyone. That’s impressive.”

Even more impressive is the fact that Chirpich had not pitched in an amateur baseball game since the 2017 season. The Division I hurler fanned two A’s batters and got an infield popout to seal the Martins’ one-run playoff victory.

Chirpich is coming off a team-best 7-4 record on the strength of 64 strikeouts in 78 innings pitched for ACU in the spring.

Tennyson, who went 2-for-4, and Jon Traetow answered for Fairmont with RBI hits to capture the lead, 2-1, in the bottom of the third inning.

Ethan Hurn reached on a one-out error and scored when Tennyson hammered a double into the left-field corner. Tennyson then trotted home with the go-ahead run on Traetow’s single up the middle.

Pipestone knotted the game at 2 with another unearned run in the top of the seventh. Bayley Colemer reached second base on a leadoff throwing error, took third on Carter Colemer’s infield nubber and scored on Austin Moeller’s sacrifice fly.

Christian Petschke then set the stage for the Martins’ go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth by lining a leadoff single to center. Pinch runner Paxton Gravlin took second on Sam Schwieger’s single to left, advanced 90 more feet on Blake Crawmer’s slow roller to short and scored on A’s reliever Austin Evans’ wild pitch.

Tennyson, Petschke and Schwieger each collected two of Fairmont’s 11 hits on the game, while Mitchell Carson and Carter Colemer generated two hits each for Pipestone.

A’s starting pitcher Mike Friese allowed three runs — only one earned — on 10 hits in seven-plus innings to take the loss. Friese struck out three and did not issue a walk.