Blue just 1 win away

MARSHALL – The Marshall Blue VFW baseball team entered the District 3 tournament as the defending district champions, but Pipestone came in as the top seed. After a weekend of action at Legion Field, it was proven once again that the road to the district crown goes through Blue.

Second-seeded Marshall Blue routed Olivia 10-0 in five innings Saturday to set up a meeting against Pipestone, with a spot in the district championship on the line. After surrendering three runs in the bottom of the second inning, Marshall shut down Pipestone the rest of the way and secured a 5-3 victory.

The two teams met in the regular season on June 13 in Pipestone, with the home team coming away with a 7-6 walk-off win after rallying from three runs down in the last two innings. Blue capitalized on its shot at payback with Sunday’s win. But just because Marshall won Round 2 doesn’t mean Blue thinks it’s done with Pipestone.

Pipestone will face the winner between Olivia and Worthington on Saturday in Luverne, and with a win would face Marshall Sunday at 11 a.m., also in Luverne. Pipestone would have to beat Marshall twice Sunday to win the district title.

“Losing to these guys earlier in the year, coming back and getting a little bit of redemption was nice,” Blue coach Chace Pollock said. “But we know we’ll probably see them again. They’re a very good team and we’re by no means in the clear yet.”

Sunday’s game seemed to hinge on which team could capitalize on its opponent’s miscues the most.

Marshall starter Drew Hmielewski struggled with his control early on and Pipestone took advantage by scoring three runs in the bottom of the second inning. An infield error allowed the first batter of the inning to get on base, and a walk and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with just one out. Pipestone No. 9 batter Brayden Baartman came through with a two-run single to left field and Jacoby Hunt followed with an RBI groundout that put his team up 3-1.

Hmielewski found himself in another jam in the third inning. With two outs, he gave up a double, a single and walked another batter before coming up with a big strikeout against Austin Moeller to escape the threat unscathed. Hmielewski breezed through the next two innings as his offense helped Marshall take the lead.

“A little early on he lost command of the strike zone and we made a little adjustment with him and he got into a groove,” Pollock said. “He threw well for us and pounded the strike zone. He did what we asked of him, and coming off of three days rest, that’s all we could have asked from him.”

Offensively, Marshall slowly chipped away at Pipestone, scoring no more than one run in any inning. Blue’s first run came in the second when Jack Bock led off with a single and Brad Bahlmann came up two batters later and lined a shot that the Pipestone shortstop couldn’t handle to drive in a run.

In the third, Pipestone starter Dominic Freese walked two of the first three batters before cleanup batter Noah Winkelman came through with an RBI single. After a scoreless fourth, Marshall tied the game in the fifth. Connor Winkelman had an infield hit and was able to reach second when a throw by Freese to the first baseman was well off the mark. After a sacrifice bunt by Nate Hoeft, Hmielewski came through with a sacrifice fly.

The next inning, Marshall put itself on top when Dylan Criquet-Danielson led off with a double, advanced to third on a groundout and scored when Pipestone’s shortstop let a grounder by Brent Andries scoot past him. Blue added an insurance run in the seventh thanks to Hmielewski and another Pipestone miscue. Hmielewski led off with a bunt single, got to second on a groundout and stole third base. The throw from the Pipestone catcher to third was offline and Hmielewski raced home to put Marshall up 5-3.

Pollock said Blue’s hustle and heads-up play allowed the team to claw back from its deficit and jump on Pipestone’s mistakes.

“We played the game hard and continued to put pressure on them,” he said. “We hustle down the line and do things right and sometimes that will come to our aid, like it did today.”

Hoeft came on in relief of Hmielewski with two outs in the sixth inning and got out of a tight spot with runners on second and third by striking out Pipestone No. 2 batter Bailey Colemer. Hoeft gave up a infield single in the bottom of the seventh but got a strikeout and a pair of flyouts to end the game.

In Marshall’s blowout win over Olivia Saturday, Hoeft tossed the first four innings and Aaron Polejewski worked the fifth for a combined one-hit shutout. Bock had a double and walked twice, scoring three runs for Marshall, and Noah Winkelman was 2-for-3 with a triple and two runs scored.

Sunday’s victory over Pipestone capped a strong two days of play for Marshall on its home turf and gave Blue even more momentum as it heads into next weekend’s championship.

“The kids hit the ball well all weekend, played defense all weekend and pitched well, and that’s a good combination, especially come playoff time,” Pollock said.