Through 72 years of life, 42 years as a head coach and 710 previous victories, St. Cloud Cathedral coach Bob Karn had never witnessed anything like what his team pulled off Monday afternoon.
Trailing Fairmont 4-1 in the top of the seventh inning, the Crusaders rallied for four runs, all with two outs, to win their eighth Class 2A state championship with a 5-4 victory over Fairmont.
“This is the greatest comeback to win a game this big that we’ve had,” Karn said. “In the state championship game, at Target Field. This will go right alongside our other big victories.”
For five innings, it appeared that Fairmont’s big bats and the pitching of junior ace Spencer Chirpich would be enough to deny the Crusaders another title. Fairmont (25-2), which scored 19 runs and had 16 base hits in the semifinals, continued to mash the ball in the bottom of the first inning, scoring two runs on three hits off of St. Cloud Cathedral ace Jeff Fasching.
The Cardinals added two more in the bottom of the fourth and, with Chirpich in control, all but the staunchest of Cathedral supporters thought the game was out of reach.
“That wasn’t my best game,” said Fasching, a lefthander who hasn’t lost since his freshman season. “I don’t know when the last time I gave up four runs was. But we all still felt positive. We knew we were going to score some runs.”
Chirpich began to tire and cracks surfaced in the sixth inning. Leaning more on his curveball, he gave up his first run, cutting the deficit to 4-1.
“He just didn’t think he had enough left on his fastball,” Fairmont coach Todd Sukalski said. “He was just trying to get by.”
He almost did.
Chirpich retired two of the first three batters, leaving Cathedral (26-1) with a man on first base and just one out left in its season. But Josh Thyen doubled in a run and Brady Yoerg walked on four pitches, leading to the biggest at-bat of the game.
Shortstop Steven Neutzling tripled down the right-field line, scoring two runs and tying the score. Fasching followed with a hard ground ball to short that could have ended the inning, but the throw got past the first-baseman, leading to the game-winning run.
“Coach Karn always says that you play by the out, not by time, so we always felt we had a chance,” said Neutzling about his big two-out hit. “I just wanted to have fun with the situation. This has to be the best moment of my career.”
Fairmont threatened in the bottom of the seventh, putting runners on second and third with one out. But Cathedral pitcher Dominic Austing, who relieved Fasching in the fifth and pitched three scoreless innings, retired the final two batters.
“We’ve heard all the great stories about past teams,” Neutzling said. “Now we’ll get to be one of those stories.”