Fairmont captures AA state bid

WINDOM – One pitch away from perfection.

Fairmont junior ace right-hander Spencer Chirpich flirted with pitching a rare perfect game against Marshall during Thursday’s Section 3AA baseball championship game in Windom.

Chirpich finished with a one-hit complete-game gem, while the Cardinals’ batting order erupted for three runs on four hits in the bottom of the sixth inning to pace a 3-0 victory over the Tigers at Island Park.

No. 3-ranked Fairmont (23-1) opens the Class AA state tournament next Thursday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud. The Cardinals, who earned their fourth state appearance in the last five years, will await the outcome of Saturday’s seeding meeting that will determine both their first-round opponent and quarterfinal’s starting time.

No. 10-ranked Marshall ended its season with a 21-6 record.

“Obviously, Spencer pitched an outstanding game, but you have to give our defense credit for playing extremely well behind him today,” said Cardinal mentor Todd Sukalski, whose lineup extended its school-record winning streak to 23 in a row. “I also thought (catcher) Ben Abel called a great game behind the plate.”

The hard-throwing Chirpich needed only 81 pitches – an incredible 60 for strikes – to retire the first 20 Marshall batters in order before the Tigers’ No. 3 hitter Drew Hmielewski ruined the Cardinal right-hander’s quest for perfection – no hits, no walks and no batters reaching on an error.

With two out in the bottom of the seventh inning, the left-handed hitting Hmielewski connected on a single to center before Fairmont third baseman Jay Ruen gloved Noah Winkelman’s ensuing grounder and pegged a strike to first baseman Tyler Tennyson for the final out.

“Hmielewski’s a great hitter and it was his third at-bat against Spencer, so you knew he had the ability to break up the perfect game and no-hitter,” said Sukalski.

While Chirpich was mowing down one Tiger after another, Marshall right-hander Connor Winkelman displayed his mound mettle by holding the potent Cardinal bats to only three hits – two by Chirpich – through five shutout innings.

Fairmont, however, finally erased the goose eggs on the scoreboard during the bottom of the sixth.

Luke Becker, who was selected to the Minnesota Baseball Coaches Association’s all-star series June 20-21, served as the Cardinals’ offensive catalyst by drilling a leadoff single and alertly taking second base on the Tiger left fielder’s error.

“Luke reaching second (base) to lead off the sixth really put the pressure on Marshall’s defense,” said Sukalski. “Then, as we’ve done all season, we had guys step up. Tyler Tennyson delivered a key hit to move Luke to third before Gilly (Nathan Gillis) came through with a sacrifice fly to score Luke for a 1-0 lead.”

But Fairmont was not done scoring as Parker Monsen delivered his second hit of the sectional championship by legging out a hard-hit grounder to the hole at short. Ben Abel then lined a pivotal two-run double into the right-field corner to plate both pinch runner Evan Closs and Monsen for a 3-0 edge.

Chirpich recorded three strikeouts and did not issue a walk in seven near flawless innings of work to notch the complete-game victory.

Connor Winkelman allowed three earned runs on seven hits, struck out nine and issued two walks in six innings to absorb the loss.

Marshall 000 000 0 – 0 1 2

Fairmont 000 003 x – 3 7 0

Connor Winkelman (LP) and Walker Werpy. Spencer Chirpich (WP) and Ben Abel.

LOB-Fairmont 6; Marshall 1. 2B-Chirpich (F) and Abel (F). SF-Nathan Gillis (F).

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NOTE: Fairmont state baseball tournament T-shirts will be available for purchase by contacting Lori Chirpich at: lchirpich@hotmail.com