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Alexandria senior Erich Murphy was all smiles as his teammates greeted him near home plate after he hit a three-run home run that broke a 4-4 tie in the third inning on Tuesday. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)

Card baseball: Alexandria rallies for sixth straight victory

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Cardinals Alexandria,Minnesota 56308 http://www.echopress.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/8/0824/axbbmurphy0522128846.jpg?itok=UFdxrBjP
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Card baseball: Alexandria rallies for sixth straight victory
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

Alexandria baseball coach Russ Hinrichs had a stern message for his guys after they came off the field down 4-0 after a half inning against Brainerd on Tuesday night.

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The Cardinals had gotten home around 11:30 the night before after a long doubleheader in Willmar. They came out and played like a tired group in that first inning, committing two errors, one of which extended the inning with two outs and allowed three more runs to score.

Hinrichs didn't want to hear about any excuses in a big game against the Warriors. He called his players into the dugout and demanded more of them, especially a group of eight seniors that were playing in what might be their last game at Knute Nelson Field.

"He told us that it was on us seniors to start stepping up and leading this team," third baseman Erich Murphy said. "Because it's our final year, and it's pretty much our team to lead the way."

That message resonated as Alexandria stormed back behind an eight-run inning that led to a 9-7 win to wrap up the regular season. It was the sixth straight win for the Cardinals, who were feeling good about how they were playing as they waited to hear where they would open up the playoffs next week.

Hinrichs got what he asked for from his seniors in an eight-run third inning. AJ Anderson had two hits in the frame as the Cardinals batted around and knocked Brainerd starter Blake Peterson from the game after 2 1/3 innings.

Anderson opened the floodgates when he came to the plate after a Jordan Domine base hit to lead off the inning. Anderson got a fastball up and didn't miss it, sending it over the center field fence in a hurry to cut his team's deficit to one.

"I was just looking for the pitch right down the middle," he said. "I was being picky and looking to drive something. I knew it was gone right away, so I was just running the bases thinking, 'Yep, we're going to pull through in this game.' "

Two straight batters reached after that before senior Logan Serum tied the game with an infield single that brought home Gideon Burnham. Murphy came to the plate next and delivered a three-run shot to center field that gave Alexandria a lead it would never relinquish.

"I was waiting on that one pitch to come into my zone," Murphy said. "I took that fastball that came right into my sweet spot and took it out."

That shot was part of a big day for the Alexandria seniors, who heard their head coach's message loud and clear after the first inning. The Cardinals got nine hits and eight RBIs from that group. Anderson led the way with a 4-for-4 night that included four RBIs and a run scored.

"This was a night for our seniors," Hinrichs said. "Maybe our last home game against our biggest rival with a lot on the line. To start that way was disappointing, but to see the way we responded, I think that is a microcosm of our whole season. We have started slow and just gotten better and better."

To the point where Alexandria believes it's playing its best baseball as it enters the playoffs next Monday. The Cardinals didn't know if they would host a game or go on the road after finishing the regular season 12-8. Official seedings are likely to be announced sometime today, Friday.

Wherever the Cardinals end up, they believe they have a shot to make another deep run this season. It all starts on the mound for this team, where Alexandria boasts a team ERA of 2.88. Beau Backhaus started on Tuesday in what was his third start in eight days. He allowed seven runs in 4 2/3 innings, but just two of those runs were earned.

Sophomore Mitch Thompson came on in a 9-7 game with one on and two outs in the fifth. He struck out the first man he faced. Thompson didn't allow a hit over the final 2 1/3 innings. He got the save after allowing just one walk and striking out three.

Thompson and fellow sophomore Blake Stockert have given this pitching staff a shot in the arm late in the season. Stockert, a lefty, has been dynamic in three starts, striking out 33 guys in 18 innings pitched. He is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA.

"Both of those guys have just been fantastic," Hinrichs said of his two sophomores. "They have the guts of a burglar. They just come in there, and they just pitch. They work so quick. Blake against Willmar was electric. His stuff was outstanding. So there's a bright future for those two guys."

The addition of Stockert adds to a deep playoff rotation for Alexandria. Anderson (3.69 ERA) and Backhaus (1.39 ERA) can also match up with anybody on any given night, while Nick Knoblach (2.72 ERA, 17SO) shuts the door at the end as the team's closer. The key is getting past the single-elimination format and being allowed to use that depth.

The Cardinals know they need to play defense and put the ball in play offensively to back up their pitching. Alexandria committed three errors against the Warriors that allowed five unearned runs to score. Those are things this team knows can't happen against good teams in the postseason.

"If we field the ball and we put the ball in play," Hinrichs said, "that's the two things that have been the difference in our winning streak as opposed to when we weren't playing well...I love our pitching staff. Our ERA is under three. High school baseball, I think that's pretty good. The unfortunate thing is it's single elimination. We have a lot of depth but now it's just a matter of seeing who we're going to play and figuring out who we're going to throw."

GAME STATISTICS

BRAINERD 400 030 0 - 7 8 3

ALEXANDRIA 108 000 X - 9 13 3

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Backhaus - W, 4 2/3IP, 8H, 7R, 2ER, 0BB, 4SO; Thompson - S, 2 1/3IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 3SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Anderson - 4-4, HR, 1 run, 4 RBI; Domine - 2-2, 2 BB, 2B; Ben Allen - 2-4, 1 run, RBI; Nick Knoblach - 1-4, 1 run; Serum - 1-4, 1 run, RBI; Backhaus - 1-3; Murphy - 1-3, HR, 1 run, 3 RBI; Ty Kisthart - 1-3; Burnham - 1 run; Christian Anderson - 1 run; Grant Becker - 2 runs

ALEXANDRIA 7-6, WILLMAR 1-2

The Alexandria baseball team could get used to these doubleheaders.

The Cardinals made it back-to-back sweeps of a couple of twinbills and improved its winning streak to five games with 7-1 and 6-2 wins over Willmar on Monday night.

Alexandria got two solid pitching performances in the doubleheader. AJ Anderson had his best start of the season in the nightcap. The senior went the distance, allowing just two hits and walking nobody. He struck out 11 in a much-needed complete game after his team had to battle for 12 innings in the opener.

Nine different players got base hits for Alexandria in game two. Jordan Domine had two of those and fellow senior Ty Kisthart hit a solo home run in his only at-bat of the night in the sixth inning.

"What a great moment for a great young man as the senior stepped up in a pinch-hitting role," head coach Russ Hinrichs said. "Ty has been a great team player all year and his teammates could not have been happier as he rounded the bases following the home run to left."

Alexandria finally broke open game one with five runs in the top of the 12th. The two teams took a 1-1 game into that inning before Ben Allen gave his team a one-run lead with a sacrifice fly. Anderson and Beau Backhaus followed with run-scoring hits to give their team some breathing room after that.

Nick Knoblach got the win in relief of starter Blake Stockert. Knoblach went five innings and worked out of a bases loaded jam with one out in the eighth. He held Willmar to one run on three hits and two walks, while striking out three.

Stockert continues to turn heads as just a sophomore on the mound. He went the first seven innings and allowed one unearned run on five hits. He struck out 12.

"On the night, three Alexandria pitchers totaled 19 innings of work, allowing no earned runs, 10 hits total with 26 strikeouts," Hinrichs said. "We are playing well at the right time as a team."

GAME STATISTICS

WILLMAR 100 000 0 - 1 2 3

ALEXANDRIA 121 003 X - 7 10 2

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Anderson - W, 7IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 0BB, 11SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Domine - 2-4, 2B, RBI; Zach Peterson - 1-4, 1 run; Anderson - 1-3, BB, RBI; Knoblach - 1-3, 2B, 1 run; Mitch Thompson - 1-3, 1 run; Aaron Billberg - BB; Gideon Burnham - BB; Backhaus - 1-2, 2B, RBI; Grant Becker - 1-2; Erich Murphy - 1-2, RBI; Kisthart - 1-1, HR, 1 run, RBI; Christian Anderson - 1 run; Allen - 1 run; Pat Leary - 1 run

ALEXANDRIA 000 001 000 005 - 6 12 3

WILLMAR 000 100 000 001 - 2 8 3

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Blake Stockert - 7IP, 5H, 1R, 0ER, 0BB, 12SO; Knoblach - W, 5IP, 3H, 1R, 0ER, 2BB, 3SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Anderson - 3-6, RBI; Murphy - 2-6, 2B, 1 run; Backhaus - 2-5, 2B, BB, 1 run, 2 RBI; Logan Serum - 1-6, RBI; Domine - BB, 2 runs; Knoblach - 2-5, 1 run; Leary - 1-5, RBI; Becker - 1-5; Allen - 0-5, RBI; Thompson - 1 run

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Eric Morken
Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
(320) 763-1229
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