By Marshall Independent and The Journal Staff
MARSHALL - It's been 20 years, but the Springfield Tigers made it to the state tournament with a 2-0 victory over Wabasso in the Section 3A championship game Friday in Marshall.
Photo courtesy of Laura Richert
Springfield’s Jake Vanderwerf makes the catch in center field as the Tigers defeated Wabasso in the Section 3A title game Friday in Marshall.
Wabasso entered the playoffs with an 8-11 record while Springfield moved its record to 20-2 with the win, but the underdog Rabbits showed they belonged.
The Tigers went 27-4 in 1994 and took third place in the two-class system. They open the state tournament against an opponent to be determined.
"It's a new thing, its been since 1994, so it is exciting," Springfield coach Bob Fink said.?"What is exciting, is it started last year, where we knocked on the door and that group of seniors set the tone and this team knocked it down. Our goal from Day 1 was making the state tournament. One thing I have to say about these guys is they are all fierce competitors."
For Wabasso, it was an end to an incredible run.
"Right down to the end, we kept it interesting and gave ourselves a chance," Wabasso coach Chad Olson said. "That's what I was really impressed with. They are a good team and are going to make plays. The fact that we still had a chance in the top of the seventh with guys on base made them a little nervous, and that's all you can ask for."
While Olson and Wabasso have great respect for the Springfield program, Fink didn't lose sight of the fact he had a tough opponent on his hands.
He was impressed with the Rabbits' winning streak through the consolation bracket.
"I take my hat off to Wabasso for what they did in the playoffs," Fink said. "They really tightened up their game, and a lot of credit goes to their coach. He's an incredible person and an incredible coach. The key going into the game against them was making their younger guys hit the ball."
While some of the younger players did get hits, there weren't enough to go around and, combined with strong Springfield pitching, was a key difference in the game.
Olson knew that was a battle the team was fighting all season long.
"We are not a deep team and we knew that," Olson said. "We didn't hit our way to a lot of those wins in the playoffs. We had to play good defense and have solid pitching."
From the beginning of the season to the end, the Rabbits saw the most improvement in their pitching and defense.
"The awareness improved and just knowing what to do with the ball defensively," Olson said. "We harped on that over and over again during the season and the kids finally started to make the plays they needed to make."
Springfield got an early lead Friday, scoring the only runs of the game in the bottom of the second inning on an RBI single from freshman Branden Flock and a bases-loaded walk by senior Cooper Scheffler, also recording an RBI.
Senior Neil Eichten got the start on the mound for the Rabbits and went the full six innings and walked four while striking out four.
Junior Carter Erickson pitched 6 2/3 innings for the Tigers. He also struck out four and walked four.
Senior Dylan Wersal picked up the final out of the game to record the save with a strikeout.
Springfield held the Tigers to three hits as Ty Kemp, Caleb Kemp and Caleb Salfer each went 1-for-3.
Jevan Richert went 2-for-3 while the Tigers got one hit each from Scheffler, Sam Baier, Erickson and Tim Krueger.
The loss brought the end to the high school careers of seniors Neil Eichten, William Klann, T.J. Fulton, and Caleb Salfer.
For Eichten, who was a three-sport athlete at Wabasso, the ending was bittersweet,
"We went to the section final in football and came up short and now again in baseball," Eichten said. "We just couldn't get to state. I've had a lot of fun playing with these guys over the past four years. I'm going to miss putting on a Wabasso uniform."