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Alexandria’s Brock Anderson throws during a game on July 16. Anderson was dominant at state, striking out 22 in 14 innings pitched. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)

Alex VFW plays well beyond their years in taking third at state

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The Alexandria VFW 15s baseball players have played with a chip on their shoulders all season against predominately older competition, so it’s not a surprise that nothing changed at the VFW state tournament in Brainerd over the weekend.

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The 15s continued to surprise some of their older counterparts by taking third place at state. They finished 3-2 over the weekend with wins against Marshall (4-0), Becker (7-5) and Brainerd (7-0) to go with losses to the two teams that played in the title game in Grand Rapids (5-0) and Ranview (6-1).

“They got a lot of fire in them,” head coach Beau Backhaus said of his team’s ability to beat older teams. “They’re very competitive. They see age as [an opportunity to say], ‘We’re going to make you feel like idiots because we’re younger, and we’re going to beat you.’ That’s kind of what they rally behind. They really got fired up for state and played amazing baseball.”

Brock Anderson set the tone for that with a dominant performance in a 4-0 win over Marshall in game one. The left-handed pitcher allowed just one hit. He walked four and hit a batter, but Marshall couldn’t touch him when he was in the strike zone as Anderson fanned 15 in the game. He struck out the side in three of the seven innings.

“He’s unreal,” Backhaus said. “His talent is insane, and he’s the youngest guy on the team. He’s going into ninth grade and everyone else is going into 10th. That shows you what Alex baseball has until he graduates.”

Anderson wasn’t done after his win over Marshall. He came back in game four of Alexandria’s run and went the distance again in a 7-0 win over Brainerd. Anderson fanned seven this time to help keep his team’s season alive in the loser’s bracket.

“His velocity is definitely the fastest we’ve seen all season,” Backhaus said of what makes Anderson so tough on hitters. “He throws very hard, especially from the left side. He’s got a lot of movement on everything and his changeup and breaking ball are always on point. He can spot them really well.”

Anderson got some run support in the early innings of both his wins. Alexandria scored four runs in the third inning against Brainerd and had a 6-0 lead after four frames.

Micah Christenson had two runs and two hits in that game. Hunter Schoenrock did the same, while Connor Hammerback, Br. Anderson and Blake Anderson all added runs.

Alexandria dropped game two of the tournament in a 6-1 game against Ranview, a team that consists of players from Cretin Derham Hall, St. Thomas Academy and other schools from the Twin Cities area. That meant they had to fight their way through the loser’s bracket the rest of the way.

The 15s almost did that. Their game three win against Becker came in a 7-5 contest that saw Brady Burgau get the win on the mound and also put down a crucial suicide squeeze bunt in the sixth inning. Alexandria scored three runs that frame to take the lead for good after trailing 5-4 heading into the sixth.

They followed that up with the win over Brainerd before facing Grand Rapids with a spot in the championship on the line. Jake Drew got his second start of the tournament in that game and gave his team a chance through five scoreless innings to start the contest.

Grand Rapids finally got to Alexandria in the sixth with one run before scoring four in the seventh to put the game away. The 15s went into the tournament believing they could win state but still felt they proved something with the third-place finish.

“First would have been best,” Backhaus said. “But all those guys are 15 years old and going into the state tournament against a lot of teams who brought down Legion players. I think it was a really big accomplishment being able to take third in that tournament. It’s an awesome group of guys and great baseball players, for sure.”

The run at state wrapped up quite a summer for the baseball teams in Alexandria. The Legion team added a trip to state, while the VFW 16s team played in the district title game against the 15s. The talent seems to be coming up through the system that could benefit the high school program in the years to come.

“I think Alexandria baseball right now is incredible,” Backhaus said. “We had the 16s and 15s playing to go to state in VFW and to think of having all those kids on one roster, I don’t even know how good they could be. That will be incredible. The sky is the limit I think for Alexandria baseball.”

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