Tigers hit a rut

MARSHALL – Even when the weather is miserable, the Fairmont Cardinals baseball team always feels comfortable when it plays at Legion Field.

The three-time defending champions of the Section 3AA tournament, which has been held annually in Marshall, defeated the Marshall Tigers 6-1 Saturday at Legion Field. Senior Bryce Holm toed the rubber and overcame winds of 25-plus miles per hour and a wind chill in the 30s to toss a one-hitter for Fairmont, which is ranked fifth in Class AA and improved to 10-1 overall with the win. Holm struck out five batters and walked six on a day that was tough on pitchers and hitters alike.

The last time the Tigers and Cardinals played at Legion Field was an elimination game in the Section 3AA tournament last season, a game Fairmont won 5-4 in eight innings. Cardinals head coach Todd Sukalski said his team loves making the trip to Marshall.

“We’ve always done well here. We like this field,” Sukalski said. “It’s almost not even like an away game when we come here because we’ve been here so much.

“This is our second home, as we like to say. It’s a two-hour bus ride, but once we get here we always enjoy playing here and we’ve always had a lot of success here.”

In Saturday’s matchup, the Tigers couldn’t muster much of anything against Holm, one of Fairmont’s top pitchers. He threw five innings of no-hit baseball before Marshall’s Derek Buysse came through with an RBI base hit in the sixth inning after Holm had walked back-to-back batters. It could have also been ruled an error since after fielding Buysse’s grounder the shortstop threw wide of first and pulled the first baseman off the bag.

“He did a nice job pitching for them and was around the zone,” said Marshall head coach Chace Pollock said of Holm. “He could throw two good pitches for strikes and that kept us off balance. It wasn’t an ideal day to hit, so anything around the zone was good today.”

The Cardinals didn’t do all that much hitting either. They needed just six hits to score their six runs. Marshall starter Adam Kovash struggled with location after sitting down the Cardinals in order in the first inning. Over the next two-plus innings he gave up six walks and two hits.

Fairmont took a 2-0 lead in the third inning. The Nos. 8 and 9 batters led off the inning with walks. After a fly out, Luke Becker followed with a single and the Cardinals scored their runs when Kovash walked the fourth and fifth batters in Fairmont’s order with the bases loaded.

Kovash walked the first batter he faced in the fourth inning before handing the ball over to Austin Saugstad, who finished out the game.

“He’s just got to challenge more,” Pollock said of Kovash. “He knows he has to throw strikes to be successful. Saugstad came in and did a nice job of getting outs when he came in and that was nice to see.”

An RBI double from leadoff hitter Spencer Chirpich helped fuel a three-run fourth inning for Fairmont as the Cardinals took a 5-0 lead. Saugstad kept Fairmont off the board the next two innings before the Cardinals scored a final run in the seventh.

The Tigers were coming off playing a doubleheader against Pipestone the previous night and an 11 a.m. start to Saturday’s game didn’t allow much time for rest, but Pollock didn’t want to use fatigue as an excuse for the one-sided result. Fairmont didn’t play Friday, but had played three doubleheaders during the week.

Sukalski said he knows Marshall wasn’t at its best on Saturday and doesn’t think it will be the last time his Cardinals see the Tigers this season.

“There’s a good chance we’ll play these guys again and we know they’re a solid team, and we didn’t see their best pitchers out there. That makes a big difference,” he said.

Marshall is right back at Legion Field today for a make-up game against Morris Area. The game is scheduled to start at 3 p.m.