FAIRMONT - Sleepy Eye hasn't given itself a lot of breathing room so far in the District 2 American Legion Baseball Tournament, but that hasn't stopped Post 7 from piling on the victories.
After a narrow 1-0 win against No. 1 seed New Ulm Gold on Thursday, Sleepy Eye earned another nail-biting victory on Friday against No. 2 seed Fairmont, winning by a score of 7-6.
Sleepy Eye saw its early 4-1 lead evaporate when Fairmont scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth, but Post 7 rallied for three runs in the top of the eighth and did just enough to hold on for the victory.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
Sleepy Eye's Scott Salfer (right) is congratulated by first base coach Bruce Woitas (7) after driving in the go-ahead run in his team's victory against Fairmont in District 2 American Legion Baseball Tournament action on Friday in Fairmont. Sleepy Eye's Sean Mathiowetz is shown looking on from second base.
"[Fairmont's] a good team, they put up a lot of hits and we came right back at them," Sleepy Eye starting pitcher Sean Mathiowetz said. "We were down one in the seventh, they were down four or five and they came back, and we just kept fighting. We've been fighting this whole tournament, we've just been hitting the ball well and playing pretty good defense."
With the victory, Sleepy Eye (3-0 in tournament play) will now enter Sunday's championship game, where it will have two chances to take home the tournament title.
New Ulm Gold will face Worthington at 1 p.m. today in the elimination bracket, with the winner then playing Fairmont at 4 p.m. The winner of the 4 p.m. contest will join Sleepy Eye in the final, but will need to defeat Sleepy Eye twice to win the title.
Sleepy Eye seized the early momentum against Fairmont, with Mathiowetz driving home the first run of the game in the third inning with an RBI single.
Jordan Anderson crossed the plate in the fourth inning to increase Sleepy Eye's lead to 2-0, scoring when Adam Sellner reached first safely on a two-out, bases-loaded error by Fairmont second baseman Luke Becker.
Fairmont ended up with six errors in the contest, with Sleepy Eye only scoring four earned runs in the game.
"When other teams make errors, good teams need to take advantage of those, and we were able to do that today," Sleepy Eye head coach Alan Woitas said.
Anderson and Brady Hansen recorded RBI singles in the fifth to give Sleepy Eye a 4-0 advantage.
Fairmont chipped away at Sleepy Eye's lead with one run off of Mathiowetz (7 2/3 innings pitched, 13 hits, six earned runs, four walks, five strikeouts) in the fourth before piecing together a four-run rally in the sixth to take a 5-4 lead.
Aside from the one bad inning, Mathiowetz was able to limit the damage against him by stranding the bulk of the 17 baserunners he allowed.
"Sean gave up a lot of hits and got himself in a lot of jams, but we worked out of multiple bases-loaded, or runners on second and third jams with minimizing the damage," Woitas said. "A lot of times that's what's going to win you a game."
Sleepy Eye regained the lead in the eighth, with Josh Kopacek and Joe Meyer earning back-to-back walks to lead off the inning. Sellner advanced both runners on a groundout and Mathiowetz and Scott Salfer followed with consecutive RBI singles to give Sleepy Eye a 6-5 lead. Mathiowetz scored when Nolan Helget reached on an error to make the score 7-5.
Levi Becker notched a two-out RBI double for Fairmont in the bottom of the eighth to cut Sleepy Eye's lead to 7-6, prompting Post 7 to make a pitching change. Sellner took the mound with runners on second and third, but coaxed Ryan Noll to pop up to end the threat.
Fairmont threatened again in the bottom of the ninth with some aggressive baserunning, but Sleepy Eye cut down a runner at third and turned a game-ending double play on a line drive to Mathiowetz at shortstop.
Mathiowetz ended up earning the victory, with Sellner earning a save with 1 1/3 innings of one-hit relief.
Anderson led Sleepy Eye's attack, going 4-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI. Mathiowetz was 2-for-5 with a run and two RBI, Kopacek was 1-for-3 with two runs scored and Meyer was 1-for-2 with a double, three walks and a run scored.
Despite entering the tournament as an underdog, Sleepy Eye - which is comprised predominantly of players from Sleepy Eye St. Mary's High School - has started to show the kind of play that left St. Mary's undefeated in the regular season during high school play.
"This is pretty much our school ball team, we all know each other pretty well, and we're just coming together right now," Mathiowetz said. "We didn't play very good during the [Legion baseball] regular season, but now in playoffs we're starting to really come hit the ball, we're starting to make the plays and we're coming through when we need to in the late innings."
Sleepy Eye knows it will probably have a rematch with either New Ulm Gold or Fairmont in Sunday's championship, with the first game slated for 1 p.m. and the second game following at 4 p.m. if needed.
"We know we're going to have a good team coming through, it's either probably going to be [New Ulm] Gold or Fairmont," Mathiowetz said. "These have both been really competitive, close games, and hopefully our pitchers can bounce back - Jordan and Adam both through hell-of-a games yesterday, we've just got to keep our pitching consistent and keep playing defense and we should have a good shot of winning with needing to get defeated twice."