Tigers ousted by Fairmont in 3AA softball tournament

MARSHALL – Unable to get key hits down the stretch of its Section 3AA tournament elimination game against Fairmont, the Marshall softball team saw its season come to an end Saturday with a 7-4 loss to the Cardinals at the Marshall Softball Complex.

The Tigers fell behind 4-0 after two innings and played catch-up the rest of the way. After scoring three runs in the fourth, Marshall stranded two runners in scoring position in both the fifth and seventh innings and could never quite close the gap.

Marshall, the second seed in the 3AA-North sub-section, out-hit the Cardinals 10-8 but struggled to move its runners around the bases.

“Our bats didn’t show up real well. We were ahead of their pitcher and hitting it off the end,” said Marshall head coach Jack Houseman, who was missing a couple of players due to illness. “We just didn’t get those clutch hits to knock them in.

“It is what it is. One of our goals was to get here on Saturday and get some experience and we got that accomplished. We would have liked to have played longer, but that’s how it goes.”

Fairmont (10-10 overall) went on to defeat Redwood Valley 6-1 later on Saturday and advanced to face Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta at 5 p.m. today in Marshall. The winner of that game will face New Ulm for the right to take on Pipestone for the section title.

Marshall ends its season with a 12-10 record.

The Tigers were coming off a brutal game on May 21 when they gave up 17 runs over the final three innings of a 20-5 loss to Morris Area on a cold, rainy night. The negative momentum seemed to carry into the start of Saturday’s game against Fairmont.

Marshall sophomore pitcher Callie Graff walked the first batter of the game and then Fairmont’s Micaela Gochanour pounded a home run for a quick 2-0 lead. Graff got out of the rest of the inning unscathed, but Fairmont added two more runs in the second inning after a lead-off double by Alyson Eversman followed by singles from Courtney Guetter and Courtney Whitmore.

It obviously wasn’t the start the Tigers were looking for, but they weren’t deterred.

“They had a couple of good hits but it was nothing we were scared of,” Marshall senior shortstop Brooke Louwagie said. “We came back but we just didn’t get the hits we needed towards the end.”

Graff settled down and held the Cardinals scoreless over the next three innings, including a pair of 1-2-3 innings in the third and fourth. Marshall’s offense also woke up in the fourth inning to cut into the lead.

Louwagie started off the fourth with a single, Ashley Stattelman drew a walk and Madison Radel got on thanks to an error by the third baseman to load the bases. Senior Amy Welu got the Tigers on the board with an infield single that scored Louwagie, and Julia Marshall made the score 4-3 after a two-RBI single to center field.

The bottom three batters in Fairmont’s order got on base to start the sixth inning and all three of them scored, two on a single by Gochanour, as the Cardinals created some more separation. Fairmont pitcher Mikayla Krzywicki sealed the game by getting out of a couple of jams. In the fifth she got an inning-ending strikeout with runners on second and third, and after a run scored in the seventh, she induced a fly-out to right field to end the game with two runners in scoring position.

The young Tiger team graduates three seniors in Louwagie, Welu and right fielder Katie Kaiser. Houseman said the team will miss all three, especially Louwagie, who has been one of the top hitters in the area over the past few seasons.

“She’s been the anchor of the offense for a long time,” Houseman said. “For many years it was like one or two hitters that we had that had some offensive pop, so she did a good job showing our freshman how to go up there with confidence, show a little power.”

Marshall will return both of its starting pitchers next year as Graff and Miranda Fischer are both just sophomores. Houseman is also hoping the Tigers can bring back some of its pop on offense. Marshall made significant overall improvements on offense from last season, doubling its scoring average from 4.2 runs per game to 8.4 runs per game.

“It’s been a long time since we hit the ball like that consistently,” Houseman said. “It was a little bit of a struggle for the top of our order today, but consistently with that top somebody got on, somebody started us, somebody showed us the way that we could hit off that pitcher. They did a good job being patient for most of the year and we got to learn how to run around the bases.”