LUVERNE - With just four players from the 2012 state tournament team back for the 2013 season, Marshall VFW Blue entered the District 3 playoffs with all of the envy, yet almost none of the experience. Thankfully for Blue, it received a lights-out performance from one of those veterans, while the new faces showed no hesitation on the big stage.
Anchored by a dominant performance on the mound from Nate Hoeft and a three-run fifth inning, Blue is headed back to the state tournament following a 5-1 win over Pipestone on Sunday.
"Nate did a very good job for us. He pounded the strike zone and did what Nate Hoeft does; that's making the defense work and spotting up his fastball," Marshall Blue head coach Chace Pollock said. "He did a great job for us throwing and let his defense work, and earlier in the game he had a couple strikeouts here and there."
Marshall VFW Blue pitcher Nate Hoeft delivers a strike against Pipestone during the District 3 championship game in Luverne on Sunday. Hoeft allowed one hit and struck out nine Pipestone batters in Marshall’s 5-1 win.
In fact, the first five outs recorded by Hoeft came via strikeout, while the right-hander settled in for a one-hit, nine-strikeout performance.
Pipestone's only hit came in the top of the fourth as designated hitter Austin Scheelhaas singled in Justin Ropps with two outs to tie the game at 1-1. Hoeft faced just one extra batter in each of the final three innings, with just one runner reaching second base in that stretch.
A lead-off error and sacrifice bunt put Blake Walters on second base with one down in the top of the fifth, but a running grab by Matt Thompson in right field held Walters at second. Hoeft induced a pop fly to the shortstop to end the inning.
Thompson had made another tough catch in the third inning, while coming up just short on a diving attempt in the later innings. His hustle in the field and on the base paths set the tone for a young, hungry Blue team.
"That's a typical Matt Thompson effort. He goes hard all the time, pedal to the metal, and we'll take him sacrificing results as long as he's going 100 percent," Pollock said.
Blue regained the lead with some clutch hitting in the bottom of the fifth.
Scotty Buss reached on a one-out single, while consecutive walks loaded the bases for Marshall catcher Jack Bock.
Having struck out twice already in the game, Bock worked the count full, fought off two pitches and finally pulled a single down the first-base line, scoring Buss and Drew Hmielewski.
"Three-two count, bases loaded after two foul balls and he ground out an at-bat," Pollock said. "Jack wasn't seeing the ball the best today, but he made that one count down the line and that was huge for us."
Dylan Criquet-Danielson added to the Marshall lead with a sacrifice fly, scoring Hoeft and bringing the score to 4-1.
Blue's first run came in the second inning, as Brad Bahlmann scored from second on a passed ball that neither Walters, the Pipestone catcher, nor pitcher Mario Sada could locate.
Marshall's final run came in the sixth when Thompson knocked in Derek Rasmussen with a single.
Hoeft worked past a lead-off error in the top of the seventh, recording fly ball outs that failed to leave the infield before ending the game as he started it, with a strikeout of Pipestone's Jacoby Hunt.
"The kids deserve it. They worked hard this summer and they deserved every bit of this," Pollock said of the berth in the VFW state tournament. "All the credit goes to them."
The win over Pipestone was the second time in eight days that Marshall had knocked off the district's No. 1 seed. Braden Bartmann took the loss.
"Pipestone is well coached and they threw three different guys at us, gave us three different looks and kept us off balance," Pollock said. "We just got the big hit when it counted and Nate gave us a great performance on the mound. That was the difference."
Hoeft had three walks to go along with his one hit allowed, and the Marshall defense committed three errors behind him on the game. He also was 2-for-2 at the plate, stealing two bases and scoring a run. Buss was 2-for-3 with a double and a run, while Bock was 1-for-3 and drove in two runs.
The four members of the 2012 Marshall Blue who returned for the 2013 season were Hoeft, Hmielewski, Conner Winkelman and Noah Winkelman.
With its victory on Sunday, Marshall Blue clinched consecutive appearances in the state tournament for the first time since 2005-06. Marshall now has 10 days off before heading Ely, nestled in the north woods, for the Minnesota VFW State Baseball Tournament.
Pipestone000 100 0-1 1 1
Marshall010 031 X-5 7 3
P-Mario Sada, Braden Bartmann (3), Justin Ropps (5); M-Nate Hoeft. WP-Hoeft. LP-Bartmann. 2B: M-Scotty Buss. SB: M-Hoeft 2, Derek Rasmussen. LOB: P-6; M-4.