Marshall VFW Blue had a loss to give heading into the final day of the district playoffs in Luverne on Sunday. It proved beneficial as Marshall dropped its first game of the day to Luverne, 7-6. But Marshall will return to the VFW state tournament for the first time since 2009 after a strong performance from Riley Sharbono, on the mound and at the plate, pushed VFW Blue in a 4-1 victory in Game 2.
Sharbono struck out three and walked none while picking up the win for Marshall. He allowed seven hits, but limited Luverne to just one run.
The eventual game-winning run was a product of Sharbono's bat. His fifth-inning double drove in Nolan Schaeffer to break a 1-1 tie. Sharbono finished the game 3-for-4 with two doubles and the one RBI.
Schaeffer went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Mason Campion and Bryce Johnson both contributed to the Marshall win with a hit and RBI each.
Sharbono's inspiring performance lifted the spirits of a Marshall team that saw a three-run lead in Game 1 evaporate in the seventh inning. Luverne scored four unearned runs in the inning to go ahead 7-6.
"After Game 1, we only talked about...how we needed to turn the page quickly to have a shot to win," said Blue coach Matt Suby.
"(Sharbono) was a perfect example of that," Suby said. "He was a part of that seventh inning. But it affected him positively. The team rallied around him (in Game 2)."
Marshall trailed 1-0 following a fourth inning run for Luverne. But Blue evened the score with a run in the bottom of the fourth. Two insurance runs were added in the sixth inning and all but secured Marshall's state tournament appearance given Sharbono's demeanor on the mound.
"We knew we were (in the state tournament)," Suby said. "You could feel the energy building all game. We went out the last couple innings and got those important insurance runs."
Luverne, which defeated Pipestone and Olivia on Saturday to advance to Sunday's final, rallied from a 6-3 deficit in Game 1. The four unearned runs of the seventh inning came against the pitching duo of Adam Kovash and Conner Mesman.
Marshall had built its lead early in Game 1. Blue opened the game with a run in the bottom of the first. Marshall added two more runs in the third inning.
Luverne cut the Marshall lead to 3-1 with a run in the fourth. Gunner Olson tied the game with a two-run home run in the fifth that just got past the short left field fence. Blue responded with three runs in the bottom of the fifth, but ultimately were unable to recover from the four-run seventh.
Mesman was attributed the loss for Marshall, after relieving Kovash in the seventh. Kovash entered the game to start the sixth inning in relief of starter Carl Douglas, who allowed three runs on five hits over five innings.
Drew Hmielewski and Connor Winkelman each went 2-for-3 from the plate during the game. Hmielewski had a triple, two RBIs and two runs, while Winkelman chipped in with an RBI. Douglas also had a double for Marshall.
VFW Blue is unsure of who its opponent will be when the state tournament begins Thursday in Mankato. They are aware, however, that they will be playing two games on Day 1. Due to rotational seeding, only three teams are required to play a doubleheader to open the tournament each year. For Suby, who will be making his third appearance at state as the VFW Blue coach, it will be the third time his team has opened up the tournament with a pair of games.
Luverne000 120 4-7 8 3
Marshall102 020 0-6 8 3
L-Zane Hill; M-Carl Douglas, Adam Kovash (6), Conner Mesman (7). WP-Hill. LP-Mesman. HR: L-Gunner Olson. 3B: M-Drew Hmielewski. 2B: M-Douglas.
Luverne000 100 0-1 7 2
Marshall000 112 X-4 9 2
L-Connor Crabtree, Connor Hoffman (4), Kendall Meyer (5), Tommy Vajgrt (6); M-Riley Sharbono. WP-Sharbono. LP-Meyer. 2B: L-Meyer; M-Sharbono 2.