Marinette Legion’s Derek Klegin dives back to third base as Kimberly third baseman Mason Schnese watches the ball skip past in the fourth inning of Thursday’s state tourney game at Pedersen Ball Park. <br> EagleHerald/Jody Korch
Marinette Legion’s Derek Klegin dives back to third base as Kimberly third baseman Mason Schnese watches the ball skip past in the fourth inning of Thursday’s state tourney game at Pedersen Ball Park.
EagleHerald/Jody Korch
MARINETTE - In a 3-2 loss Wednesday night, Marinette Legion showed it could play with the state tourney field. On Thursday, Marinette showed it could win at state.

Marinette stayed alive in the Wisconsin Legion AAA State Tournament with an 8-5 win over Kimberly at Pedersen Ball Park.

"We proved that we belong with the other teams," said Marinette's Austin Belonga, who pitched an excellent complete game.

Post 39 will play Plover today at 1 p.m. in an elimination game. Kimberly and defending state champion Madison Impact were eliminated on Thursday.

After gift-wrapping three first-inning runs, five Marinette players were staring their final Legion game in the face. They didn't want it to end.

"They played like it," Marinette coach Brian Lesandrini said. "Your backs are against the wall. That's what separates the men from the boys."

In the first inning, Kimberly made Post 39 pay for a misjudged two-out fly ball. Three hits and three runs later, Marinette assistant coach Shawn McMahon gathered the infield and battery on the mound and incited a little passion.

Marinette got one run back in its first at-bat. Derek Klegin hit a leadoff single and hustled two bases on a wild pitch. Scott Eldredge walked on four pitches and Belonga lined an RBI single to left.

Two innings later, Klegin hit another leadoff single, Eldredge singled and Belonga launched a three-run home run to left to put Marinette ahead 4-3.

"Sitting dead red," Belonga said of the 1-0 fastball.

The Cougars regained the lead in the fourth, nearly had more, and nearly got nothing. Mason Schnese walked and Steven Jacobson crushed a shot to left/center on a hit-and-run play. Marinette center fielder Nate Kallestad made a great running catch. Schnese was nearly doubled off first base, the throw skipped past first, and Eldredge backed the play up from his catcher position. His quick flip to Luke Kelly still nearly got Schnese out.

Instead, Tyler Merckx launched a double to left and Brady Townsend hit an opposite-field, two-run single.

The defense let Kimberly down in Marinette's half of the fourth. Cody Tessmer reached on a wild third strike, Klegin singled and Eldridge slapped an RBI infield single near the second-base bag. A second run scored on a wild throw to third.

The next batter, Aaron Benson, tagged a two-run homer to left, and Marinette led 8-5.

"We kind of beat ourselves," Kimberly coach Tyler Frederickson said."This was uncharacteristic, and some of the errors came from senior leaders."

Belonga pitched out of a jam to end the game. Kyle Bellin drew a two-out walk and Griffin Hawley reached on an error to bring the tying run to the plate, but the game ended with a popout.

"Austin Belonga pitched a great game," Lesandrini said. "He's one of the leaders of the team. He played like it."

Belonga, who walked three and struck out six, threw 125 pitches, including some extras due to the errors.

"He threw a lot of extra pitches, but that's what happens in the game of baseball - you're going to make some mistakes," Lesandrini said.

Belonga's two-seam fastball was working, and his slider dove, according to Lesandrini.

Losing pitcher Matt Meulemans, who returned from Tommy John surgery, had been pitching well but didn't have his good stuff Thursday, Frederickson said.

Marinette pounded out 11 hits.

"We really swung the bats well," Lesandrini said. "In the pregame, we made it a point of emphasis. I think the swings all around were a lot better today."

WP - Austin Belonga 9 IP, 5R, 4ER, 9H, 3W, 6K

LP - Matt Meulemans 5 IP, 8R, 7ER, 9H, 1W, 6K

Leading hitters (Marinette): Belonga 3x4, HR, 4 RBIs; Derek Klegin 3x4; Scott Eldredge 2x3, RBI; Aaron Benson 1x4, HR, 2 RBIs; (Kimberly): Tyler Merckx 2x4, 2B; Brady Townsend 1x4, 2 RBIs; Travis VanderHyden 1x3, RBI

Kimberly 300 200 000 - 5
Marinette 103 400 00x - 8