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Brainerd's Hannah Kangas slid to the outside part of the third-base bag to avoid the tag from Alexandria's Sarah Bruzek last Thursday night. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)

Card softball: State-ranked Brainerd holds off Alexandria

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The Alexandria softball team knew it needed a solid pitching performance to have a chance against Brainerd and future University of Minnesota pitcher Nikki Anderson last Thursday night.

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That's exactly what sophomore Taylor Ellingson gave the Cardinals on a night when Alexandria came up just short in a 2-1 game.

"That's what we wanted was just to have a shot at the end," head coach Randy Albers said. "That's what we had with runners on. We just couldn't get the timely hit. I feel very good about how they played."

The Cardinals had a chance to win it in the bottom of the seventh with runners on the corners and one out. Mikayla Lucas fought off a few fastballs from Anderson before swinging through a changeup.

Anderson then attacked leadoff hitter Dani Carlson the same way. She started off with a powerful fastball early in the at-bat before dropping the changeup again. Carlson swung through it with runners on second and third as Brained escaped with the narrow win.

"She was tough before that," Albers said of Anderson. "In the years previous, I can probably count the number of changeups on one hand [that she's thrown], but that seems to be the new pitch that she's developed. That just puts her at another level yet completely. She's going to have to have a pitch like that in college, and that's a good one."

Alexandria tried to manufacture a run on her early. Dani Strater was on third with two outs in the second inning when Amanda Christianson worked out a walk. She immediately broke for second base in an attempt to get in an intentional rundown.

Strater broke for home on the play, but the throw never went to second base. Instead, Anderson turned and fired home to get Strater into a rundown where she was eventually tagged out to end the inning.

"You know you're not going to get a lot of runs off her," Albers said. "That was kind of our plan, whether it's gimmicky or not. We were just going to try and apply as much pressure as we could...I think it will pay off for us down the road because we're going to have to use things like that once in a while to manufacture some runs. We didn't execute it today, but we're going to keep doing it and applying the pressure."

Those runners left on the bases would prove to be a big part of the night for both pitchers. Ellingson stranded six runners through the first three innings as Brainerd took a 1-0 lead into the fourth.

Lauren Trumm led off that inning with a triple as she turned on a changeup and pulled it down the left field line. Sarah Bruzek followed with a single off the glove of the shortstop to drive her in and tie the game at one apiece.

That's how things went to the top of the sixth when Trumm helped Ellingson get out of some trouble. The Warriors put runners on the corners with nobody out when Trumm gunned down the runner trying to steal second.

Most catchers wouldn't attempt that throw with the go-ahead run on third. It proved to be a big momentum boost in the inning as Ellingson struck out the next batter before inducing a fly out to Christianson in center field.

The Warriors finally got to Ellingson for what turned out to be the winning run in the top of the seventh. Brainerd loaded the bases before Anderson helped herself out by coaxing a walk. Christianson helped her pitcher avoid further damage when she came in to catch a line drive before doubling off a runner from second to end the inning.

Ellingson didn't get the win but she gave her team a chance against one of the top teams in the state. She went the complete game, striking out seven and allowing five hits. Anderson was just a little better as she struck out nine in a complete game five-hitter.

"I try to stay focused [against Brainerd] a lot," Ellingson said. "This game, I kept positive because I knew we were all playing with them, and I could pitch to them, and they wouldn't hit it...usually my changeup doesn't work, but it was working today way better than it has before."

The Cardinals hope to build on those positives going forward. Brainerd was 12-1 overall and 9-0 in the Central Lakes Conference after the win. Alexandria gave itself multiple chances to beat the Warriors, which is what the Cardinals will focus on as they try to build some momentum with less than a month left in the regular season.

"I think it says that we can play with anyone if we cut out the mistakes that we've had before," Ellingson said. "I think we can play with anyone."

GAME SUMMARY

BRAINERD 001 000 1 - 2 5 1

ALEXANDRIA 000 100 0 - 1 5 2

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Ellingson - L, 7IP, 5H, 2R, 7SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Trumm - 3B, 1 run; Bruzek - 1B, RBI; Emily Kuennen - 1B; Rachel Peterson - 1B

CARDS WIN TWO

The Cardinal softball team battled through wet playing conditions to finish its home tournament with back-to-back shutouts on Saturday.

Alexandria beat Maple Lake 4-0 after taking care of Zimmerman in five innings by a 10-0 score.

The Cardinals were locked up in a pitchers' duel against Maple Lake before scoring all four of their runs in the bottom of the third. Jessica Syvrud provided the big hit of the inning with an inside-the-park home run that scored Dani Carlson and Mikayla Lucas.

Taylor Ellingson took over from there. She got the win by allowing just one hit and striking out three.

Alexandria scored three runs in the second against Zimmerman and never looked back in the opener. Rachel Peterson started the inning with a double. It was one of three hits in the game for the junior. Quinn Kragenbring and Natalie Berglin both added a hit and two RBIs. Berglin's came on a two-run triple in the fifth that ended the game by the 10-run rule.

Emily Kuennen got the win in game one by going the distance. She allowed just one hit and struck out five.

"The weather was not very cooperative, making playing conditions not very good," head coach Randy Albers said. "But the girls hung in there and despite the poor conditions played very well defensively, committing only one error. The pitching was very good with Emily and Taylor giving up only one hit apiece."

GAME SUMMARY

ALEXANDRIA 003 0 - 3

MAPLE LAKE 000 0 - 0

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Ellingson - W, 5IP, 1H, 0R, 3SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Syvrud - 1 hit, 3 RBI; Ellingson - 1 hit, RBI

ALEXANDRIA 033 04 - 10

ZIMMERMAN 000 00 - 0

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Kuennen - W, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 5SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Carlson - 1 hit, RBI; Sarah Bruzek - 1 hit; Kragenbring - 1 hit, 2 RBI; Peterson - 3 hits, RBI; Berglin - 1 hit, 2 RBI

Follow #AlexMN @EchoPress Sports Reporter Eric Morken on Twitter at @echo_sports.

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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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