Going where FHS softball has never gone

The 2013 Fairmont Cardinals softball team did two things this season that no other team in the program’s 35-year history has been able to do.

The Cardinals won four sectional playoff games – the most ever by a Fairmont team – en route to 11 victories on the spring season.

In their run toward an 11-11 season, the Cardinals and second-year head coach Terry Ehlert also tied for the best-ever winning percentage – .500 – for the third time in the program’s history.

Under Brad Johnson in both 2004 and 2006, the Cardinals generated 10-10 records, but were unable to extend their seasons in the playoffs.

After starting out 0-7 this season, Fairmont rattled off its longest winning streak ever, taking home five straight wins.

“Losing seven games to start out the season was tough,” said Ehlert. “The girls kept their heads up and once we were able to get that first win, our confidence came back and we steadily improved.”

Senior players Mariah Thate, Jennifer Svoboda, Taylor Schultze, Kaylee Sauck and Courtney Whitmore – along with quality younger players – were able to win two playoff games for the first time since 2007 and then surpassed that mark.

“Our offense really carried us in the early part of the season, when we’d make three or four errors a game. As the season went along, our defense caught up to our offense. As the errors decreased, the girls kept believing we could win,” said Ehlert.

Prior to its final two postseason games on Tuesday, Fairmont was batting .289 as a team and had a .365 on-base percentage.

As the regular season closed, the Cardinals were able to carry momentum into the playoffs with an 8-7 comeback victory over South Central Conference opponent St. Peter on May 14 at Cardinal Park in Fairmont, beating the Saints for the first time in more than a decade.

“I think that game was really the turning point for our team because we knew that after winning, we could play with good teams and come back to win,” said Ehlert. “Our veteran players really helped us over that hump, and we played well as a team ever since.”

The Cardinals opened the playoff portion of the season with a 7-2 win over Luverne before losing 5-1 to No. 1-seeded Pipestone Area on May 21 in Pipestone.

Fairmont then moved to the elimination bracket and did exactly that to three teams. Fairmont handed Marshall a 7-4 loss, beat Redwood Valley 6-1 and downed Morris Area/Chokio Alberta via a 9-4 decision.

“I think after beating St. Peter, they really started believing in themselves. As a coach, I saw what they were capable of doing and we were so close. It just took that win to get over the hump,” said Ehlert.

Defending Class AA state champion New Ulm ended the Cardinals’ record-breaking run, beating them 10-4 in the Section 2AA semifinal on Tuesday in Marshall.

Ehlert, however, has 11 of his 16 players returning next year, so there may be even more records broken in the future.

“Being able to win these games and do well with these girls is really great. A lot of them have been on varsity for years, but they really put in the work both during the season and in the offseason,” said Ehlert. “Next year, they can come back with that confidence to start the season and who knows what we can accomplish.”