Down and shut out

WINDOM – When the Fairmont Cardinals beat the Marshall Tigers 2-1 back on May 9, neither team knew they would be on a collision course for an almost identical finish in the Class AA Section 3 title game nearly a month later.

The Cardinals’ Spencer Chirpich threw a one-hitter and was one strike away from a perfect game in a 3-0 victory that ended the Tigers’ solid season Thursday.

“There’s not too many teams in our class or in the state that were going to beat him today,” Marshall coach Chace Pollock said. “That was a heck of an outing by him. He was spot on.”

Marshall’s Drew Hmielewski broke up the perfect game and no hitter – down 0-2 with two outs in the top of the seventh – with a line drive single to center field.

Chirpich didn’t walk or hit a batter. He allowed just one hit and did it with the help of his defense, only having to record three strikeouts.

Fairmont broke the game open in the sixth inning after a bend-but-not-break game for Marshal’s Connor Winkleman, who didn’t let a runner reach third base until that inning.

Luke Becker opened the frame with a single and was moved to third on a single from Tyler Tennyson before a sacrifice fly from Nathan Gillis plated the Cardinals’ first run. Nate Johnson provided the insurance runs, doubling to right centerfield to drive in the final two runs.

Chirpich contributed two hits to his one-hitter on the mound.

The similarities between Thursday’s game and the May 9 contest are unavoidable. In the game last month, the score was 0-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth before the Cardinals put up two runs and held the Tigers to just one.

Fairmont coach Todd Sukalski knew it wasn’t going to be easy after playing the Tigers once this season already.

“We knew they were a tough ball club,” Sukalski said. “They weren’t going to give us anything. We knew Connor Winkleman was a tough pitcher.”

Another theme this game for the Cardinals was getting contributions from multiple people.

Sukalski feels this was a key to them getting to the state tournament.

“This is how you go to state,” Sukalski said. “With efforts like that. All our guys came to play. Everybody contributed again. That’s kind of been the story of our year.”

Winkleman finished the game with nine strikeouts against just two walks, allowing three runs on seven hits.

He will return for the Tigers next season, and Pollock knows he will be able to bounce back from the tough loss.

“Connor through a heck of a game for us and competed as Connor Winkleman always does,” Pollock said. “In the sixth inning, they changed their approach a little bit and went the other way. He matched Chirpich for six innings. He has nothing to hang his head about and he knows that. We’re excited about the nucleus we have coming back next year.”

The loss brought Marshall’s record to 21-6 on the year and was the final game for seniors Adam Kovash, Conner Messman, Bryce Johnson, Alex Marks, Carl Douglas, Riley Sharbono, Mason Campion and Walker Werpy.