Austin Belonga pats the helmet of Aaron Benson after Benson’s two-run home run in the seventh inning gave Marinette Legion a 6-5 lead at the AAA state tourney Friday.   EagleHerald/Jody Korch
Austin Belonga pats the helmet of Aaron Benson after Benson’s two-run home run in the seventh inning gave Marinette Legion a 6-5 lead at the AAA state tourney Friday.
EagleHerald/Jody Korch
MARINETTE - From falling behind early to battling back to the brink of victory, then watching it slip away, the Marinette Legion baseball team rode a rollercoaster of emotions Friday.

The season ended with a heartbreaking 7-6 AAA state tourney loss to Plover at Pedersen Ball Park.

The abruptness and finality were especially excruciating for a Post 39 team that played three fine state tourney games.

Marinette qualified for state because it is the tourney host but proved that it belonged, according to Scott Eldredge, who along with Austin Belonga, Luke Kelly, Ty Bebo and Jake McMahon played in their final Legion game.

"We proved that we belong with any team in the state," Marinette coach Brian Lesandrini said.

Beau DeLaet hit an opposite-field single to open the ninth for Marinette. Derek Klegin then bunted him into scoring position. Eldredge's line shot was hit right at left fielder Jacob Barnes, and the game ended with a groundout.

The Black Sox - the top-ranked AAA team in the state - scored two runs in the third inning when two tough but catchable fly balls dropped for hits. Sterling King crushed a solo home run in the fourth, and Mitch Mallek's RBI single put Plover up 4-0 in the fifth.

"We wanted to put up a bigger number than a two or one spot because we knew they could hit," Plover coach Wayne Sankey said.

Marinette got two back in the sixth. Kiefer Powers walked, Derek Klegin doubled down the left field line and Eldredge lined a 1-2 pitch to center for a two-run single. Marinette left two runners in scoring position with one out.

Plover tacked on a run in the sixth on a leadoff walk, Marinette's third error of the game and Tyler Nalbach's sac fly.

"It's difficult because there were plays throughout the game that should've been made," Eldredge said. "Errors killed us our first and third games (at state). It's tough that it's over but life goes on."

But Post 39 showed its true character with a four-run seventh. McMahon, who lined two shots for outs, reached on a bloop single. Ty Bebo reached safely on a sac bunt. McMahon scored from third on a close play at the plate, and Bebo scored from third on a double steal when the throw went wide. Aaron Benson got the large crowd buzzing with a two-run homer to left off closer Zak Wallner. That gave Marinette a 6-5 lead and all of the momentum.

Marinette pitcher Austin Wright worked through the seventh unscathed. In the eighth, Cole Pieczynski hit a one-out single and Nalbach kept the inning alive with a two-out walk.

With runners on first and second, Connor Zblewski roped a sinking liner to center. Nate Kallestad tried for diving catch but the ball skipped past for a two-run double.

"Nate did as I would've told him to do," Lesandrini said. "He tried making a play. He just missed it. It's all about effort. Our whole team gave 110 percent. That was a great game."

The day before, Kallestad made what may have been a game-saving catch against Kimberly.

"A state tournament, every game is gonna be close," the Plover coach said. "It's how you react to those close games. You can't get too high or low. They (Marinette) battle. We knew coming in it wasn't gonna be easy."

Wright pitched a gutty complete game, with five earned runs on eight hits, five walks and one strikeout.

"We had them beat, but as any good team will do, they battled back," Lesandrini said.

Marinette finished the season 22-17.

"Great group of kids," Lesandrini said. "They had each other's backs. They know the game of baseball. It makes my job easier."

Lesandrini thanked the groundscrew, parents, trainer Mike Shampo and his assistant coaches Shawn McMahon, Dave Klegin and Jordan Kinney.

WP - Zak Wallner 3 IP, 4R, 3ER, 3H, 0W, 2K

LP - Austin Wright 8 IP, 7R, 5ER, 8H, 5W, 1K

Leading hitters (Marinette): Beau DeLaet 1x1; Scott Eldredge 2x5, 2B, 2 RBIs; Aaron Benson 1x4, HR, 2 RBIs; Derek Klegin 2B; (Plover): Jacob Barnes 2x4, 2B; Connor Zblewski 1x3, 2 RBIs; Cole Pieczyski 1x3; Sterling King HR

Marinette 000 002 400 - 6
Plover 002 111 02x - 7