Beetles baseball: Alexandria clinches playoff spot in fine fashion
With the way the second half of the season has gone for the Alexandria Beetles, it was only fitting that they punch their first ticket to the playoffs in eight years with some magic on the final out.
Alexandria came into Wednesday night's doubleheader with Duluth with a magic number of three. The Beetles took care of business in the opener with an 8-5 win and knew Thunder Bay had beaten Willmar 4-1 earlier in the night.
That added to the intrigue as all-star closer Anthony Bazzani came to the mound looking to secure the second half title in a 4-3 game in the nightcap on Wednesday. Bazzani ran into trouble after giving up back-to-back singles to start the inning.
Those runners stood at second and third with two outs after a sacrifice bunt and a pop out to second base. Bazzani fell behind 3-1 before delivering a fastball to Marcus Riewer. The Huskies' second basemen sent a soft liner into shallow left field when Chris Fritts came on and made a diving catch to secure the win. His teammates erupted out of the dugout as Alexandria celebrated the division title by piling on Fritts in the left-field grass.
"Chad Bunting in centerfield came in and is just screaming at me to make a play," Fritts said. "So I just laid out. I knew he had my back in case I missed."
It wouldn't have mattered where Bunting was had Fritts missed the catch. Both Duluth runners were going at the crack of the bat and would have scored for the go-ahead run.
"I didn't want to walk him, so I just kept throwing him fastballs," Bazzani said. "As soon as it came off his bat, it was off the end of the bat and a little shallow. I thought both runs were going to score, and Fritts just comes out of nowhere and makes an incredible play. It was awesome. I didn't know what to do. I was just running around like a chicken with my head cut off."
The catch capped off what was an intense atmosphere over the final few innings. Beetles' manager Matt Hancock had to watch the final inning from the stands after getting ejected in the top of the sixth.
Shortstop Nick Gumm made a charging play on a ball that short-hopped him before throwing on to Rick Devereaux at first. Devereaux made the pick but the first-base umpire ruled the throw pulled him off the bag. The safe call put runners at first and second with just one out in a one-run game. Tensions had mounted on a few calls earlier in the game, and Hancock had seen enough.
"You get caught up in the moment," Hancock said. "I'm fighting for my ball club, and that's my job to do is to stick up for my guys when I feel the call's wrong. Obviously I want to be down in the dugout with them, but no regrets. It is what it is. I'm just happy we won. It's not about me, it's about these guys."
The Beetles set a franchise record in the process on Wednesday night. The 41 total wins they reached in the game one victory is their most wins in a single season. They had a chance to shatter that record with five more games in the regular season going into Thursday and at least two more in the playoffs.
Alexandria will open the postseason on Monday or Tuesday night against first-half winner Mankato. Where that game will take place was yet to be determined as the two teams fight for home-field advantage through this weekend.
Wherever they open up, these players are confident in their ability to take this all the way. At 26-9 in the second half, there's no reason they shouldn't be.
"As long as we stay together and everybody buys in, we're going to be fine," Devereaux said. "We're going to go out there and play our tails off and hopefully win this thing."
DULUTH 100 011 0 - 3 9 1
ALEXANDRIA 031 000 X - 4 7 1
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Jon Reed - W, 5IP, 5H, 2R, 2ER, 3BB, 2SO; Michael Schweiss - 1IP, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 0SO; Bazzani - S, 1IP, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 0SO
ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Ben Magsig - 0-3, BB, 1 run; Will Fulmer - 3-4, RBI; Chris Fritts - 0-3, RBI; Chad Bunting - 1-3; Devereaux - 0-2, BB; Jeremy Boyd - 0-3; Mike Theofanopolous - 1-3, HR, 1 run, RBI; Dale Ricketts - 1-2, BB, 1 run; Nick Gumm - 1-2, 1 run
DULUTH 003 002 000 - 5 6 4
ALEXANDRIA 020 013 11X - 8 10 3
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Nate Smith - 3IP, 1H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 3SO; Corey Miller - 0IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 0SO; Kevin Vangheluwe - 5IP, 5H, 2R, 0ER, 1BB, 4SO; Bazzani - S, 1IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 1SO
ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Gumm - 2-3, 1 run, 2 BB; Will Fulmer - 1-4; Kevin Grove - 0-1; Fritts - 1-3, 1 run; Boyd - 0-5; Mike LeViseur - 2-4, RBI; Devereaux - 0-2, 2 BB, 2 runs; Ricketts - 2-3, BB, 2B, 3 runs, RBI; Blair Roberts - 1-1; Magsig - 1-1, BB, 2 RBI; Bobby Martin - 0-1; Logan Bowers - 0-3, 1 run, RBI
Monday, August 8
ALEXANDRIA 001 030 500 - 9 6 3
MANKATO 203 000 000 - 5 9 2
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - M. Reed - 5 IP, 7H, 5R, 4ER, 2BB, 6SO; Sanderson - W, 1 1/3IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 2SO; Schweiss - 1 2/3IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 0SO; Bazzani - 1IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 3SO
ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Ben Magsig - 1-3, 2 BB, 2 runs; Tanner Vavra - 1-5, 2 runs, RBI; Fritts - 1-4, 1 run, 2 RBI; Chad Bunting - 0-5; Devereaux - 1-5, 2 RBI; Grove - 1-5; Mike LeViseur - 0-1, 2 BB, 2 runs, RBI; Dale Ricketts - 1-2, 2 BB, 2 runs; Nick Gumm - 0-2, BB