8AAA baseball: Cards' run ends in the section title game
The Alexandria baseball team saw its run at a state tournament berth come up just short on Wednesday night as the Cardinals fell to Brainerd 13-4 in the Section 8AAA championship in St. Cloud.
Alexandria had the task of trying to battle back through the losers' bracket and won four straight to get to the title game. The Cardinals capped that off with an 8-3 win over Bemidji on Wednesday where Dan Kuhn threw six solid innings and Parker Revering hammered a grand slam in a seven-run fourth inning.
That meant the Cardinals had a chance against the Warriors. They would need to beat them twice, but Brainerd made sure it never came to that.
"A lot of pride," head coach Russ Hinrichs said of how he felt after this team's run through the tournament. "I'm really proud of this group. To come all the way back, play four elimination games in a row and win them all against good teams - that's a great accomplishment. To get to this point and get to a section championship game, obviously we would love to still be playing. The state tournament was the goal for this team, but they have a lot to be proud of."
Hinrichs and his players gave Brainerd a lot of credit for what happened in the 13-4 win for the Warriors on Wednesday. Things were tied at three apiece after two innings, but the Warriors used a four-run inning in the third to grab the lead and a five-run sixth to open the floodgates.
"Brainerd is always kind of like that," senior shorstop Zach Peterson said. "We kept putting up runs but they kept answering. As long as they keep answering, it's going to be tough, but they always are a tough team."
The four-run third featured a couple bad breaks for Alexandria that were joined by some Cardinal miscues. A hard-hit ball in the hole at short went for a single to start the inning before an in-between hop on a ground ball to third skipped under the glove of Travis Krueger. A misplayed bunt followed to load the bases. Brainerd's Logan Jones and Conor Gessell both followed that up with two-run singles. The Cardinals never could fully recover from that as Brainerd extended its lead in the late innings.
"Those things happen and it just happened to happen at the wrong time, for sure," Peterson said. "Lately we've been playing some pretty clean baseball, but we just got some tough breaks there."
Brainerd applied pressure in almost every inning. The Warriors had 14 hits and put together good at-bats early to drive Alexandria starter Parker Bowden from the game after 2 1/3 innings. Bowden also got the final three outs in the win over Bemidji just minutes before his start. He had some trouble finding the strike zone against the Warriors as he hit the first batter he faced and walked three others. Still, Hinrichs felt his senior could have lasted a lot longer had a few things gone his way.
"That's the third game he's pitched in a row in little short stints," Hinrichs said. "He couldn't get comfortable finding his release point. We would have loved to get through that first game (against Bemidji) without having to bring him in, but he did a great job. He's been a warrior for us, and I think he really deserved a better fate. We could have probably made a few plays behind him. I'm certainly proud of him for taking the ball like he did in three straight games."
Hinrichs wanted his guys to hold their heads high after another winning season for the Cardinals. Alexandria was led at the plate in game two by Peterson with two RBIs on a single and a double. Krueger added two singles and two runs scored.
Against Bemidji, it was Revering's second home run in as many days that blew the game wide open. The junior turned on a 1-0 pitch and sent it over the left field fence to give his team a 7-0 lead. He also had a three-run shot the day before in a win over St. Michael-Albertville. Ben Kluver added a two-run single in the fourth against Bemidji and Casey Hammerback also singled in a run.
That was plenty of run support for Kuhn. The junior righty went six-plus innings and allowed just three hits. All of those came in the fourth inning when Bemidji scored two of its three runs. Kuhn walked six but struck out five and stayed out of trouble for much of the night.
That win over the Lumberjacks didn't lead to Alexandria reaching it's ultimate goal, but it was part of a memorable season for this group. The Cardinals finished 19-7 overall, as co-Central Lakes Conference champions and as the 8AAA runner-up.
"We put a good season together," Revering said. "It was really fun. We all wish we could have made it to the state tournament but we fell a little short. It was still really fun."