Cardinals face Crusaders for title

MINNEAPOLIS – When the final out of today’s Class AA state baseball championship is made, one of the two longest winning streaks in Minnesota will come to an end.

Ironically, the Fairmont Cardinals (25-1) and the St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders (26-1) enter today’s 3 p.m. title tilt at Target Field in Minneapolis with 25 consecutive victories apiece.

Fairmont lost its season-opener to South Central Conference rival New Ulm 3-1, while St. Cloud Cathedral dropped a 4-3 decision to Granite Ridge Conference foe Albany during its second game of the spring schedule.

The similarities between the Cardinals and the Crusaders, however, do not end there.

Both Fairmont mentor Todd Sukalski and St. Cloud Cathedral head coach Bob Karn have guided their perennial powerhouse programs to four state appearances over the last five years, including a state semifinal showdown in 2011.

Ironically, the Crusaders edged the Cardinals by a 5-3 decision en route to capturing the 2011 Class AA state crown. Fairmont, however, bounced back behind Jon Ellis’ no-hitter to defeat Fergus Falls 2-0 in the third-place game.

Fairmont and St. Cloud Cathedral also utilized mirror-like junior-senior pitching combinations to produce back-to-back victories on Thursday and Friday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud.

After two days’ extra rest due to a rainout on Saturday, Sukalski will likely place the baseball in quarterfinal starting pitcher Spencer Chirpich’s capable hands, while Karn will likely opt for Game 1 ace Jeff Fasching on the mound in today’s showdown between the tournament’s top two seeded teams.

Chirpich, a junior right-hander, fired a four-hit shutout during Fairmont’s 7-0 win over Aitkin, while Fasching, a senior left-hander, tossed a three-hitter to fuel a 5-1 victory over The Blake School.

Chirpich displayed stellar command of his pitches in striking out nine and issuing one walk to improve his record to 6-0 overall, while Fasching – who will pitch for the Minnesota Gophers next season – notched 11 strikeouts without a walk to improve to 9-0 on the hill.

The two teams’ Game 2 starters also are comparable.

Senior right-hander Luke Becker struck out three and walked one in hurling a complete game during the Cardinals’ 19-3, five-inning rout of Kasson-Mantorville to improve to 8-0.

Crusader junior right-hander Brindley Theisen also recorded three strikeouts and issued one walk in firing a three-hit shutout during a 6-0 semifinal win over Glencoe-Silver Lake to improve to 8-1 on the mound.

The four pitchers also figure prominently into each batting order’s stately success.

Fasching has connected for a 400-foot home run and a triple, while scoring three runs during the two-game span, while Theisen has driven in two runs and scored twice.

Across the diamond, Becker has unleashed a homer and two triples en route to five hits, five RBIs and five runs scored, while Chirpich has doubled, singled twice, driven in three runs and scored three more.

If one delves even deeper, add three hitters from each team and the fivesomes have amassed batting marks of .474 and .448 to complement accounting for 53 and 55 percent of their lineups’ RBIs.

Cardinal leadoff batter Jack Waletich has contributed five RBIs behind a 4-for-8 effort and scored four runs, cleanup hitter Jay Ruen has generated three RBIs via a double and two sacrifice flies and scored three runs, while No. 5 batter Tyler Tennyson has delivered four hits, four RBIs and three runs scored.

Crusader leadoff hitter Brady Yoerg has produced three hits, including a triple, and scored twice; catcher Thomas Imholte has gone 3-for-5 with three RBIs; while third baseman Jack Schramel has generated three hits, including a pair of doubles, and scored twice.

Finally, both defenses have proven nearly air-tight as Fairmont has committed two errors and St. Cloud Cathedral just one miscue over the opening two-game span.

So, which team has an edge?

Fans will have to see for themselves when the two prep baseball titans square off today in the 3 p.m. Class AA state championship clash at Target Field.