MARSHALL - Grinding. Fighting. Competing. Believing. The qualities of the Marshall baseball team's senior core that have led the team to so much success were there until the end, but in the end, it wasn't quite enough to help the Tigers extend their season.
In a Section 3AA tournament elimination game between two of Minnesota's top 10 Class AA teams Saturday at Legion Field, eighth-ranked Marshall got a gutsy performance from senior pitcher Riley Carpenter and a clutch two-out RBI single from senior center fielder Alex Fenske in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie sixth-ranked Fairmont at 4 and force extra innings in a game the Tigers had trailed throughout. But two Marshall miscues in the eighth inning, one in the field and the other on the base paths, proved costly for the Tigers as Fairmont snuck out a 5-4 win to keep its season alive.
"They made plays and we didn't," Marshall head coach Steve Fleck said. "It was a great high school baseball game, but there were three or four plays that we should have made that we didn't. That was the difference in the game."
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Fairmont courtesy runner Kyle Guetter, left, takes off to steal second base while Marshall pitcher Riley Carpenter delivers a pitch during the seventh innning of the Cardinals’ 5-4 win in an elimination game of the Section 3AA tournament played Saturday at Legion Field.
After Fenske knocked in Mason Schnaible with a two-out single up the middle of the infield to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, the Tigers saw their momentum stopped in the eighth when Marshall right fielder Aaron Mathiowetz lost a fly ball in the sun with one on and one out. Carpenter gave up a walk to load the bases, and then Fairmont lead-off batter Luke Becker hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Bryce Holm.
With one out in the bottom of the inning, Marshall's Ben Geary tried to stretch a single to left into a double, but was thrown out by left fielder Ben Gratz. Ben Sanders then drew a walk before the Tigers' season came to an end on a well-hit ball by Schnaible that was caught in center field.
"It's the same thing as always for this group - we just never gave up," said Fenske, who was 2-for-4 with a run scored. "But Fairmont didn't give up either and they made a couple more plays, so we have to tip our hats to those guys."
Fairmont (21-3 overall) will play Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta (15-7) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Marshall. MA/C-A dropped to the losers' bracket Saturday after a 10-0 loss to New Ulm in six innings. Tuesday's winner will play New Ulm (19-5) at 5 p.m. Thursday in Marshall and would need to beat the Eagles twice to advance to the state tournament.
Marshall ends its season with a 14-6 mark.
The Tigers' offense was held to just one run through the first five innings by Fairmont freshman right-hander Spencer Chirpich, who worked all eight innings on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Chirpich finished the game with four strikeouts and four walks. He also gave up eight Marshall hits and hit a batter.
Carpenter, who was coming off throwing a one-hitter in Marshall's tournament-opening win over Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop last Tuesday, had a shaky start to Saturday's game. He walked three batters and gave up a pair of hits in the first inning as Marshall fell behind 2-0, and gave up two more runs over the next three innings as Fairmont grabbed a 4-1 lead through four.
Finding his groove over the next three innings, Carpenter retired nine of the next 10 batters, striking out three of them. When Marshall needed him to hold down the Cardinals, that's what he did.
"Riley's a heck of a pitcher. There's no one we'd rather have up there," Fenske said. "He struggled a little bit early but he really battled the rest of the way. I don't think we would have been in this game if it wasn't for Riley."
Trailing by three, Marshall led off the bottom of the sixth with base hits from Carpenter (3-for-4) and Fenske. An error by the shortstop on a hit from Aaron Mathiowetz allowed courtesy runner Jon Kor to score, then pinch-hitter Alex Mathiowetz knocked in Fenske with a sac fly to center.
Carpenter held the Cardinals scoreless in the top of the seventh, and Marshall went into the bottom of the inning down 4-3 with the top of its order up to bat against Fairmont's freshman.
Schnaible started out by drawing a walk, Leo Zerr moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt, Matt Campion coaxed another walk and Carpenter struck out swinging before Fenske's clutch hit.
"We told our guys to take a pitch and put some pressure on (Chirpich)," Fleck said. "We had the guys up that we wanted to have up and they did a good job battling and Fenske came up with the huge hit for us."
It was a joyous moment in what was ultimately a disappointing loss for the Tigers. Fleck was hoping for a longer run in the tournament for Marshall, especially his seniors, but said he's no less proud of his players.
"This is a special group. We're going to miss them, there's no doubt," an emotional Fleck said after giving his seven seniors (Fenske, Carpenter, Schnaible, Campion, Geary, Sanders and Cory Deutz) hugs and handshakes following the game. "I hope these sophomores and juniors will take something from these seniors because that's how baseball is supposed to be played.
"They put in the work, they always hustle, they're very competitive. This isn't how they wanted it to end, but this is still a talented group that's had success at every level. ... We'll definitely miss them."
Fairmont210 100 01-5 6 2
Marshall010 002 10-4 8 2
F-Spencer Chirpich. M-Riley Carpenter. WP-Chirpich. LP-Carpenter. 2B: F-Levi Becker, Luke Becker. LOB: F-9; M-8.