Freshman pinch-hitter Jordan Leininger helps boost Fargo Shanley to East Region baseball championship
Freshman Jordan Leininger drives in game-tying run, scores game-winner for Deacons
WEST FARGO — Fargo Shanley freshman Jordan Leininger, who spent most of his season on the junior varsity team, stepped into a high-pressure situation and came up with a clutch hit to help the Deacons win their first ever East Region baseball championship on Saturday at Young Field.
Leininger was called on to pinch hit in the sixth inning, trailing West Fargo Sheyenne by a run with nobody out and fellow freshman Tommy Simon on second. He stepped up to the plate against a pitcher who carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, needing a hit to tie the game. Leininger punched a single up the middle — just the third hit of his varsity career — to drive in Simon.
Two batters later, senior catcher Cooper Mattern singled to left to drive in Leininger for the game-winning run and the Deacons went on to defeat the Mustangs 2-1 for the region title.
“That’s all you ever want,” Leininger said. “On the bench, you’re always ready to play baseball. I was ready to play baseball today. It’s a great opportunity — EDC Championship, down by 1. Come in and get the game-tying hit and come in and score the game-winning run.”
Despite Leininger’s lack of varsity experience, Shanley coach Luke Rustad knew that the moment wouldn’t be too big for him. The freshman was part of a Babe Ruth team that won a 13u Babe Ruth World Series in 2019. Leininger also scored the game-winning run in Shanley's 5-4 win over Fargo North in the East Region quarterfinals.
“I have faith in him,” Rustad said. “Jordan is a great player, he is a great athlete. He’s a good football player, a good baseball player. He’s played a lot of baseball and played a lot of big-meaning baseball games.”
With Shanley finally able to scrape ahead in the sixth, pitcher Dylan Erholtz buckled down to help the Deacons maintain their lead. He gave up a single to Mustangs leadoff hitter Quade Peters to open the bottom of the sixth, but pitched his way out of it. In the seventh he gave up a leadoff single to Brennan Haman, but got an out on a grounder right back to him and struck out back-to-back batters to close the game.
“It was amazing — to hear the crowd roaring like that — that’s something I’ll remember forever,” Erholtz said.
Erholtz gave up one run on seven hits with four strikeouts and no walks.
“Dylan Erholtz for us, battled the entire game and pitched awesome,” Rustad said. “He gave us an opportunity to just be around so we could find a way to get a couple runs and get a lead. For him to take care of it was awesome.”
Haman pitched all seven innings for the Mustangs. He had a no-hitter through five innings. He allowed four hits, all in the final two innings, and had two strikeouts, one walk and hit two batters.
Haman also scored the Mustangs’ run. He doubled in the second inning and Kole Menz drove him in with a single to right.
The Deacons' first conference championship was extra special to Rustad as they did it with his son — senior Reece Rustad — on the team. Because of that, the coach has a special connection to his seniors.
“(Reece) doesn’t get to play very much — that’s his role on the team,” Coach Rustad said. “But for him to be a part of this, with him graduating from high school this year and being on this team — and I’ve known all of these kids for a long time because of that. That puts it into perspective to me — it’s pretty special.”
The Deacons will be the East No. 1 seed at the North Dakota Class A state baseball tournament on June 3-5 in Mandan. They're scheduled to play West No. 4 Bismarck at 11:30 a.m. June 3. Sheyenne will be the No. 2 seed and will play West No. 3 seed Minot at 4:30 p.m. June 3.
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