ST. CLOUD - It was no work of art, but, to the Holy Family baseball team, its 3-0 victory over Fairmont in the Class 2A semifinals was nothing short of beautiful.
The No. 1-ranked Fire, staked to a 2-0 lead on a first-inning home run by Kasey Ralston, found itself in trouble in nearly every inning at Dick Putz Field. But every time Fairmont would threaten, Holy Family came up with a response.
Catcher Keller Knoll threw out two runners on the basepaths and Holy Family starter Rollie Lacy was at his best when he needed it most, never allowing a Fairmont batter to reach when there were two outs.
"All year we've made mistakes but we haven't let it snowball," Holy Family coach Bryan DeLorenzo said after the Fire earned a berth in Monday's 2A title game against defending champion St. Cloud Cathedral at Target Field. "We pick each other up."
It helps that the Fire has a player such as Ralston, an Indiana recruit who is also the team's top hitter. One day after pitching a three-hit shutout in the quarterfinals, Ralston drove a Ben Kain fastball over the right field fence to give Holy Family a 2-0 lead.
"And I was trying to keep the ball away," said Kain, who was also Fairmont's starting pitcher in the Cardinals' 2011 semifinal loss. "You have to tip your hat to him."
Ralston's clout proved vital to Lacy's sucess. The 6-3 righthander struggled occasionally, walking three in his five-inning stint, but said that the two-run lead enabled him to pitch without worry.
"After Kasey came through, I could just go out and pound the strike zone," Lacy said.
The Fire scratched out an insurance run in the top of the seventh inning, then snuffed a final Fairmont rally in the bottom of the inning.
"We're one game from a state championship, the furthest this baseball team has ever been," DeLorenzo said. "We're right where we want to be."
St. Cloud Cathedral 9, Proctor 8: n In his 42 years coaching St. Cloud Cathedral baseball, Bob Karn has collected a lot of stories. It's a sure bet that Friday's nine-inning victory over Proctor will take a prominent place in Karn's story book.
The defending champion Crusaders won despite falling behind 3-0 in the first inning, committing four errors, changing pitchers four times and giving up a lead in the bottom of the seventh inning.
"We talk to our kids all the time about the culture of our program," said Karn, whose teams have won seven state titles and will play for an eighth Monday.
"We tell stories from 1977, from 1980. I told our guys that I might not be around 25 years from now to talk about this team, but I hope some of them will stick around to talk about them."
What will be remembered about the 2012 Crusaders is their resilience, having staved off postseason elimination for the third time in five games.
"You never know where it's going to come from the first time, but after they've done it once, you can see the kids have faith they can do it again," Karn said.
Even the final inning wasn't easy. Cathedral scored four times in the top of the ninth to take a 9-5 lead, with Waylon Bemboom breaking the tie with a two-run single.
But as if on cue, Proctor rallied with three runs of its own in the bottom of the inning before pitcher Brian Minks got the final out.
"All that experience coming back game is so big," Bemboom said. "We always know we can do it. But it is tiring. All I want to do now is go and lay in some air conditioning."