Martins return to state after hiatus

STATE-BOUND MARTINS — Members of the Fairmont Martins amateur baseball team competing in the second round of the Minnesota Class ‘C’ state tournament at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, in Maple Lake include, front row (l-r): Mitchell Prafke, Ethan Hurn, Spencer Chirpich, Matt Lytle, Lance Becker and Blake Crawmer. Back row: Windom draftee Kobe Lovell, Jon Traetow, Christian Petschke, Adam Schmidt, Sam Schwieger, player/coach Levi Becker and coach Dave Hurn. Not pictured: Tyler Tennyson, Josh Smith, Dalen Keltgen, Paxton Gravlin, Parker Monsen, Dustin Sobolik, Windom draftee Collin Lovell and Milroy draftee Tyler Peterson. (Photo by Greg Abel)

The Fairmont Martins are returning to the Minnesota Class ‘C’ amateur baseball state tournament after a one-year intermission.

Nine Martins on this year’s team have experience playing for Fairmont in the state tournament. Spencer Chirpich, Matt Lytle, Levi Becker, Adam Schmidt, Christian Petschke, Tyler Tennyson, Lance Becker, Parker Monsen and Dustin Sobolik were all members of the 2017 Region 13 championship team.

The 2017 team ended its season with a 23-9 record and earned a first-round bye in the state tournament, but lost to Buffalo 6-2 to end the stately run early. Fairmont head coach Levi Becker said the 2019 regular season might have been even better.

“Record-wise I think it’s been one of our better seasons in years past,” Levi Becker said. “(A) 13-4 (record) in league play, you would have thought that would be a league-champion record and we lost to Windom twice for them to win the league, but we kind of had a target on our back even being the fourth seed going into this.”

The Martins lost in the third-place series in 2018 to Hadley, the second team out of Region 13 this year. Levi Becker said the team going back to state this season after missing the tournament in 2018 is a sign of big additions.

“You look at our team this year compared to last year, we gained a couple guys like (Jon) Traetow and Ethan (Hurn) that were real big pieces for our team,” Levi Becker said. “We played really well this season and there’s a common theme in the playoffs, we won on Sundays and seems like that was every series. We’ll just take that momentum into next weekend.”

The Martins will play their first game at 1:30 p.m. next Saturday against the winner of Sunday’s first-round matchup between Fort Ripley and Lake City. Levi Becker said having the first-round bye is nice, but it doesn’t play as big a role as it might in a tournament with games scheduled closer together.

“We’ll go up there on Sunday and watch that game,” Levi Becker said. “The Martins have played Fort Ripley in the past, so they even tweeted out at us that it’s always been a good battle. We’ll go up and see what they’ve got. Having a first-round bye is an advantage, but you’re going to see their best guy again, he’s going to throw the first game and he’s going to come back and throw against you.”

The Martins look to end the five-year drought at the state tournament with solid pitching from multiple Martins in Tyler Tennyson, Josh Smith and Adam Schmidt, and from sibling draft picks of Windom — Kobe Lovell and Collin Lovell — and Tyler Peterson from Milroy.

“Our pitching has basically been our lead all the way through the playoffs,” Levi Becker said. “In our Game 3s, (vs.) Milroy we won 4-2, Pipestone was 4-2, then we won 1-0 (over Hadley). Pitching and defense has carried us through the playoffs.”

The draft picks will help fill the hole that Spencer Chirpich will leave as he heads back to Abilene Christian University and misses the remainder of the season. Levi Becker said Chirpich’s contributions will be missed, but the team will make up for the drop in production.

“He’s been absolutely huge for us in the leadoff spot and playing short, plus closing out games in the playoffs,” Levi Becker said. “Ethan (Hurn) will probably play some more shortstop and move into the leadoff spot, but otherwise we’ll have guys like Dalen Keltgen who will come back and play, Parker Monsen, too. We’ll make it work, we’ll fill in and (Adam) Schmidt will probably take the closer responsibilities.”

With extra players returning and three draft-pick pitchers added, the Martins will lean on a combination of veteran experience and youthful enthusiasm to guide the team through the state tournament.

As the longest-tenured player on the Martins, Schmidt said this will be his ninth appearance at the state tournament since joining the team in 2001.

“In year’s past, especially during the five-year stretch (with the Martins making the tournament every year from 2011-2015) we had a good mix of older guys and college kids,” Schmidt said. “In 2017 we didn’t have the experience to do it, but we’ve finished top-eight a few times and we were runners up in 2012. I think this year bringing in Ethan Hurn and Jon Traetow … and having Levi Becker back, we have a shot.”

Levi Becker agreed the mixture of youth and experience will be a key to success in the tournament. He said he thinks the Martins might have the right mixture of the two this season.

“We’ve been there before,” Levi Becker said. “We’ve got veteran guys and we’ve got young guys, it’s a good mix. Hopefully that will be the winning recipe.”