MARSHALL - The rain began as a drizzle and slowly got stronger throughout the Section 3AA-North playoff game between the No. 8-ranked Marshall Tigers and No. 9 New Ulm Eagles Wednesday at Legion Field in Marshall.
The opposite was true of the Tigers' offensive charge.
Marshall scattered five hits over the course of four innings, but production at the plate dried up in the final three innings. Despite out-hitting New Ulm 5-3, the Tigers fell 2-1 in the double-elimination round.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Marshall’s Mason Schnaible lays down a bunt single during the third inning of the Tigers’ Section 3AA tournament game against New Ulm on Wednesday at Legion Field. With the loss, Marshall will play in the loser’s bracket against the
loser of today’s game between Fairmont and Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta.
For the Eagles, the victory evened the season score, vindicating themselves after suffering a 4-3, 12-inning loss to Marshall in the season-opener at the Metrodome.
"They came up with some big hits at big times," Marshall pitcher Alex Fenske said. "We just couldn't string anything together. I'm disappointed, but we're looking forward to Saturday, coming in and making our way back through the bracket and hopefully get to the championship game."
Marshall, the No. 1 seed in the North, will take on the loser of the Fairmont versus Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta matchup that takes place today after being postponed Wednesday night. New Ulm, the second seed in the South, will play the winner of Fairmont and Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta.
"It was a good game," Tiger head coach Steve Fleck said. "Any time you get to the final four, it's going to be one-run ball games. We just didn't come out on top. But if any team can come back through this bracket and give anybody a run, I believe it's us."
Connor Stark initiated a New Ulm rally in the top of the second after blasting a single down the left-field line. After Stark got into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Tanner Kluis, Jim Holstein recorded an RBI single up the middle to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
Marshall collected hits from Leo Zerr in the first, Fenske in the second and Mason Schnaible in the third, but couldn't capitalize until the fourth when Matt Campion led off the inning with a double to left-center. With one out away, the Tigers tied the game when Fenske drove Campion in with an RBI single down the right-field line.
But that would be the last time Marshall would record a hit or get a runner on base.
"We had our chances, but just didn't get it done," Fleck said. "We can't blame anybody. You have to look in the mirror and say, 'What could I have done to help the team win?' ... Even the kids that don't play, they're up at the fence and they don't quit talking the whole game."
The bantering from the Eagles' dugout was sometimes directed at Fenske, Fleck said, but didn't seem to phase the seasoned veteran.
"They were on Alex a lot, but I thought he held his composure and did a great job," Fleck said. "He's developed into our No. 1, our ace, and he showed it tonight. You pitch like that, you win a lot of games. Unfortunately, we didn't have the run production that we normally had all year. We've been able to score a lot of runs all year. (Wednesday), the baseball gods weren't with us."
While the continuous rain was an annoyance to fans, it didn't seem to bother either pitcher on the mound.
"It's not too bad," Fenske said of trying to hold onto the wet baseball. "It's just rain. We've played in the rain quite a bit this year. And, the mound was wet for both teams."
Wet conditions, Fleck said, were par for the course this year.
"Playing in the rain has kind of been our story this year," he said. "Our home tournament, the Alex tournament, O'Gorman, Luverne. It's been non-stop."
Fenske worked his way out of a jam in the top of the third, after hitting two straight batters with a pitch and walking one. The plays were judgement calls, Fleck said. After loading up the bases, Fenske forced a flyout to center to close out the inning.
"We thought some of the (New Ulm) players were leaning in and getting hit," Fleck said. "The first two innings, Alex was getting people out on the inside curve ball and kind of buckling them. All of a sudden, their kids started leaning into it. Our gripe was that if it's a strike and our catcher's glove is right there and they get hit, it's not a hit batsman."
Fleck also believed that one of the pitched balls struck the hand of an Eagle player, but the umpire ruled that the ball hit the player's wrist.
"That's my job, to question, argue and stick up for the players," Fleck said. "Alex did his job. He kept his focus. Even with bases loaded, he got the strikeout and the big pop-up and got out of it. That's what he's done all year for us. That's why he's on the mound in a big game."
In addition to striking out four and walking three, Fenske allowed only three hits in the contest. One of them, however, was a big one. After sitting down the lead-off batter in the fifth, Fenske gave up a solo home run shot over the right-field fence to Tim Kehren, giving New Ulm a 2-1 edge.
"Both kids pitched a gem," Fleck said. "We out-hit them 5-3, but they got two big hits and we got one. We have to tip our hat. (Kehren) hadn't done anything against Alex the whole game, and then all of a sudden, he hits one over the right-field fence. But that's baseball. We were just on the wrong end."
Kluis sat down five Marshall batters and walked one in the matchup. At the plate for New Ulm, Kehren and Holstein went 1-for-2 with a walk, while Stark was 1-for-2 and was hit by a pitch.
Fenske finished the game hitting 2-for-3 with an RBI, while Schnaible, Zerr and Campion were 1-for-3.
New Ulm010 010 0-2 3 0
Marshall000 100 0-1 5 1
M-Alex Fenske. NU-Tanner Kluis. WP-Kluis. LP-Fenske. HR: NU-Tim Kehren. 2B: M-Matt Campion. LOB: M-2; NU-6.