Alexandria baseball: The season slips away in the seventh
The Alexandria baseball team was three outs away from extending its season before one swing of the bat changed that on Wednesday night.
The Cardinals were leading 6-5 going to the top of the seventh in the Section 8-3A elimination game against Brainerd when the Warriors' Nate DeChaine stepped to the plate after a leadoff walk. He found himself down 1-2 when Alexandria's Blake Stockert threw a slider that stayed up in the zone. DeChaine didn't miss it as he crushed a home run to center field for what turned out to be the game-winning runs in a 7-6 game.
"I just hung it," Stockert said. "I was kind of second guessing it when I threw it. I don't know. I just threw it, left it up. I didn't keep it down where I was supposed to. He's a good hitter and he did what he was supposed to do with it."
Stockert battled through six innings against a team that had gotten to him for eight runs in four frames last Thursday. He felt a lot more comfortable with all of his pitches this time around and was forced to use a lot of his off-speed stuff against a good fastball hitting team like the Warriors.
Stockert and this whole team could have folded after falling behind 4-0 in the first inning. Instead, he put up four straight zeroes and his offense got back in it to take a 6-4 lead after five innings. The Warriors got one back on a sacrifice fly in the sixth before DeChaine's home run knocked Stockert from the game with no outs in the seventh.
Head coach Russ Hinrichs said his junior lefty had earned the chance to try and win it heading to that final frame. Stockert has no doubt been one of Alexandria's top pitchers this spring after entering the playoffs at 5-0 with an ERA of less than 1.00.
"He deserved that opportunity," Hinrichs said. "We almost pulled him early in the game, but he battled through, and he'll grow from this. We have a lot of confidence in Jake [Booth] if we would have brought him in. You can always second guess, but I think we did the right thing and left him out there. We had that guy 1-2 and you got to give them credit. He took a pitch and hit it out."
The Cardinals took advantage of a lot of Brainerd miscues to get back in the game after the early deficit. The Warriors had a wild pitch and an error that brought in two runs in a three-run second inning. Ben Allen also had his first of two RBI doubles in that inning as the senior finished with three hits and two RBIs.
"I just wanted to get on base," Allen said. "I didn't want to try to do too much or anything. I just wanted to prove to them that I could hit that outside pitch that they've been throwing to me all season."
Alexandria took its first lead at 5-4 in the third inning but felt it could have done even more. The Warriors committed three errors in that frame but Brainerd's Tom Graumann got out of it by giving up just two runs.
He caught a break when the first out was recorded at the plate as a runner tried to score on a wild pitch. That was the first of two Alexandria runners who were thrown out trying to score on wild pitches in the game. The Cardinals also left 11 men stranded on base throughout the night.
"I thought the whole time, we were one hit away from blowing it open," Hinrichs said. "I thought we were one hit away from taking a four, five run lead and then I think that would have been the difference. I think we would have put it in cruise control from there...but bottom line, these seniors, I'm proud of them. We've had a great season, and I'm proud of the leadership that they showed."
It's a season that included just the second conference title in program history. The Cardinals finished tied with eventual section title winner Rocori at 11-3 in CLC play. This wasn't how Alexandria wanted things to end, but the memories of a 17-8 season will stay with these players for a long time.
"We really came together during the whole season," Stockert said. "As the season went on, we just started killing teams. We played really, really well. Then as we got to the end of the year, I don't know, we didn't piece together what we've done the whole season. We just didn't pull it out like we needed to do right at the end."
BRAINERD 400 001 2 - 7 10 4
ALEX 032 010 0 - 6 10 1
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Stockert - L, 6IP, 9H, 7R, 7ER, 5BB, 7SO; Booth - 1IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 2SO
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Nick Knoblach - 1-4, BB, 2 runs; Allen - 3-4, 2 2B, 2 RBI; Beau Backhaus - 1-2, 2 BB, 1 run; Cody McLaughlin - 1-4; Christian Anderson - 1-4, 1 run; Toby Helgeson - 1-4, 1 run; Patrick Leary - 1-4; Zach Peterson - 1-4; Mitch Thompson - 0-2, 2 BB; Jeff Swedberg - 1 run