The Fairmont Cardinals, coached by Don Waletich, a 1984 graduate of Milbank High School, took home the trophy and the title at the 2022 Minnesota State High School League Baseball Class AA State Tournament.
It was Fairmont’s 11th trip to the state tournament and their fourth trip to the finals, but it was the first time the Cardinals won it all. The game took place on June 17, a sun-kissed summer day at Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins.
Coach Waletich told the Fairmont Sentinel, “It feels awesome. This (state trophy) is for the 2020 team that never got the chance to play any games (due to the pandemic). It’s also for the 2014 team that was one strike away from a state title.”
Although the top-seeded Cardinals defeated the Roseau Rams 7-0. It was also a big day for the Rams. It marked the first time in Roseau’s school history the Rams played in a state championship game.
Fairmont’s ten previous tournament appearances resulted in three finishes as the runner-up – the most recent one was in 2014– and three third-place finishes.
The Sentinel summed up the 2022 championship game: “With the hard-throwing 6-foot-4 Zach Jorgensen and Roseau senior right-hander Brady DeMars locked up in a scoreless pitchers’ duel for five and a half innings, Fairmont finally erased the goose egg on the scoreboard during the bottom of the sixth inning in Minneapolis.” The Cardinals exploded for seven runs in the sixth – all of them unearned.
The Sentinel also highlighted the efforts of Fairmont’s defense: “Jorgensen pitched a two-hit complete-game shutout, while also bookending Fairmont’s pivotal seven-run sixth-inning offensive outburst.”
Like thousands of kids who call Milbank home, Coach Waletich’s love of baseball started at an early age. Ron Waletich, Don’s brother who still lives in Milbank, told the Valley Express, “Don and I both played baseball as we were growing up. Don played through the ranks, including Legion ball. Now, he has been in Fairmont for 31 years and is a physical education instructor at the elementary and middle school.” Both of Don’s sons, Max and Jack, also played baseball in high school and then with the Minnesota State Mavericks.
Photo courtesy of the PhotoPress- Randy Chirpich