Jake Neis walks off the mound with joy after the last strikeout of the section title game, a win that earned the Gophers a trip to state. SAM CLEMENS/CHATFIELD NEWS
Jake Neis walks off the mound with joy after the last strikeout of the section title game, a win that earned the Gophers a trip to state. SAM CLEMENS/CHATFIELD NEWS
It wasn't easy, but the Chatfield baseball team earned a trip to the state tournament.

The Gopher baseball team looked to continue its winning ways in the finals of the Section 1A tournament against Wabasha-Kellogg. Coming from the loser's bracket, the Gophers needed to defeat the Falcons twice last Tuesday when the teams met at Mayo Field in Rochester in order to advance to the state tournament. This would be no easy task, as the Falcons came into the game with a 20-2 record, including a 2-1 win over Chatfield early this spring, and were the number one seed in the east sub-section.

Wabasha-Kellogg 2, Chatfield 3

Chatfield took a one-run victory in the opening game to force a winner-take-all contest later that night. In the opener, the Gophers scored two runs in the first inning but were then held scoreless until the sixth, when they scored the eventual game-winning run.

The scoring for the Gophers in the first was sparked by three singles in four batters. Jake Neis started the series of base-hits by hitting a line drive to right field with one out. Two batters later he advanced to third on a single off the bat of Ethan Woltz, who promptly stole second base, putting runners on second and third with two outs. The following batter, Noah Grant, drove them both in on singles to left, giving the Gophers an early 2-0 lead.

The Falcons responded in the next half inning, adding a pair of runs of their own to tie up the game at two. That would be the extent of their scoring, however, as Chatfield starting pitcher Nate Skare held the Wabasha-Kellogg lineup scoreless for the remainder of the game. Skare scattered five hits and a walk over his seven inning complete game, during which he allowed only two unearned runs and struck out six. He started and ended the game with his best stuff, striking out the first and last batters of the game. He was also the beneficiary of a double play in the sixth that was started by second baseman Zach Eggers.

Offensively, the Gophers went cold during the middle of the game. After the two-run first, they were held scoreless through the fifth inning. The only base runner during that stretch was Tommy Jech, who doubled in the second.

The tie was broken in the sixth when Chatfield scored a run on a sacrifice fly from Woltz. Neis scored the run, as he led off the inning with a double. Skare followed with a single that moved Neis to third and allowed him to tag up and score on Woltz's fly ball to center.

Skare retired the side in order in the top of the seventh to preserve the lead and end the game.

Chatfield 4, Wabasha-Kellogg 3 (F/9)

It took extra innings to decide which of these two teams would be advancing to the state tournament. In the end, it was the Gophers who prevailed, scoring a run in the top of the ninth to win the game and complete their run through the Section 1A tournament.

After the Falcons scored a run in the second, the Gophers tied up the game at one with a run of their own in the third. The run was scored by Jech, who led off the inning with a double. A Ben Pierce sacrifice bunt advanced Jech to third and allowed Neis, the starting pitcher for Chatfield, to drive Jech in on a single two batters later.

The Gophers took their first lead of the game with a run in the sixth inning. The go-ahead run was scored by Woltz. He reached on a single then advanced to second on an error. A single from the next batter, Drew Hurley, allowed him to cross home plate. The lead would be short-lived, however, as Wabasha-Kellogg scored a run in the bottom half of the inning to tie up the game again.

With the score still tied at two at the end of seven innings, the teams moved to extra innings. In the first extra frame, the Gophers reclaimed the lead by scoring a run on three consecutive singles. Skare started the rally with a base-hit to center with one out in the inning. The next two batters, Woltz and Grant, added singles as well, with the latter driving in Skare from second.

The Falcons refused to give up, though, as they scored a run in the bottom of the eighth to extend the game.

In the top of the ninth inning the Gophers added another run, which proved to be the game winner. The go-ahead run was scored by Jech who reached on a single and was advanced to second on a single by the following batter, Pierce. Then an Eggers walk loaded the bases in front of Neis, who hit a sacrifice fly to left that scored Jech from third.

Neis retired the side in the bottom of the ninth to seal the victory for Chatfield. The senior pitched all nine innings, allowing three runs, one earned, on four hits and two walks. He also struck out seven batters, including the first three batters of the game and the last.

On deck

The Gophers will begin state tournament play at 3 p.m. on Thursday at Chaska Athletic Park where they take on Royalton High School. The Section 5A representative, Royalton entered tournament play with a losing record but caught fire lately, rattling off five consecutive victories to push its record to 11-10 and earn a spot in the state tournament.