Focused on finishing strong
The Alexandria softball team was feeling good about things in the midst of a seven-game winning streak heading into a game against St. Cloud Apollo on Tuesday night.
Things were starting to come together during that stretch. Against the Eagles, the bats went silent as Alexandria suffered a 2-0 loss in nine innings that left the Cardinals (8-6, 5-3 CLC) three games back of Brainerd (12-1, 7-0 CLC) for the top spot in the Central Lakes Conference.
“Usually our hitting has been on recently,” senior third baseman Sarah Bruzek said after leading the offense with two hits and a walk in five plate appearances. “[Apollo pitcher Hannah Reichel] had some high pitches that we swung at. Maybe it wasn’t our favorite strike zone today, but we’ll get it next time…it just didn’t happen for us today.”
The Cardinals stranded 11 runners against the Eagles. It started in the first inning when Alexandria loaded the bases with one out before Reichel got out of the inning unscathed by striking out the side.
Alexandria had runners in scoring position in four other frames. The Cardinals had two runners thrown out at the plate as Reichel won a pitcher’s duel with Kaila Dewanz by working out of trouble after scattering seven hits. She walked three and struck out eight.
“We left 11 runners on total and didn’t get the timely hit,” head coach Randy Albers said. “During the past few games here during our winning streak, we were getting the timely hits, especially with two outs.”
The lack of offense saddled Dewanz with a tough-luck loss despite throwing eight-plus solid innings. The junior settled into a groove at one point, retiring 13 straight Apollo batters in the third through sixth innings.
The Eagles finally broke through in the top of the ninth when they led off with a sharp single and a hit batter. That brought in reliever Taylor Ellingson to pitch, and the senior got the first two batters she faced with strikeouts.
Apollo’s Courtney Mueller made sure the runners weren’t left stranded as she delivered a two-RBI single toward the right-center field gap. The Cardinals couldn’t answer as they went down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
Dewanz finished by scattering just five hits and a hit batter through eight-plus innings of work. She struck out four and walked nobody.
“She’s been pitching really, really well for us,” Albers said. “She doesn’t walk many. We use our defense behind her. She moves her ball around, has a good change of speed. She pitched well enough to win tonight. We just didn’t get enough runs to support her.”
Dewanz said she felt good as she got on a roll against Apollo and credited her defense after the game. The Cardinals knew this was a big game if they wanted to try and catch Brainerd in the CLC, but they still felt they were moving in the right direction after seven wins in eight games.
“I think we’re pretty confident in how we play,” Dewanz said. “We just got to get those little tiny things back in the groove, and we’ll be good to go.”
Playing its best softball come season’s end is this team’s focus now with less than two weeks before the start of the section playoffs on May 21. Albers believed he had a team that was capable of making some noise in the tournament, and he says they are making progress toward being able to do that despite Tuesday’s loss.
“I think we’re starting to meet some of our preseason goals,” Albers said. “I think defensively we’re getting in a position now where we feel comfortable; girls are feeling comfortable with their spots. There are things that we need to work on, especially going into the postseason, but we feel like we’re in a much better place than we were before the games that we just won.”
APOLLO 000 000 002 – 2 6 1
ALEXANDRIA 000 000 000 – 0 7 0
PITCHING – Apollo – Reichel – W, 9IP, 7H, 0R, 0ER, 3BB, 8SO; Alexandria – Dewanz – L, 8IP, 5H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 1HB, 4SO; Ellingson – 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 2SO
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE – Bruzek – 2 1B, BB; Ellingson – 1B, BB; Carly Dropik – 2B, HBP; Emily Kuennen – 1B; Amy Jost – 1B; Emma Ziegler – 1B, SB