It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time earlier this season when the Alexandria Legion baseball team couldn’t buy a hit.
Even manufacturing runs wasn’t happening. Getting a runner in from third with less than two outs became a mental hurdle that resulted in a five-game losing streak and a 2-6 record in district play.
“At that point in our season when we lost our fifth game in a row, we were down to a .271 team batting average,” head coach Jake Munsch said. “We had more team strikeouts than walks. We were leaving a ton of runners on base per game. Generally in baseball you need two out of three things to win. You either need to play defense and pitch or you need to hit and pitch, and we just weren’t doing it.”
Those days feel like a lifetime ago, both for Alexandria and the rest of the Sub-state 14 field. Players and coaches say they knew they were better at the plate than what they were showing early in the season. They knew they could bounce back, but to this extent?
Alexandria put up video-game-like numbers on its way to dominating the sub-state tournament this past weekend and punching its ticket to state. Post 87 won four games by a combined score of 51-5 as the fourth seed. They beat a 34-15 Moorhead team by a 19-3 score in the title game. It was the 20th win in the last 22 games for this group.
“The confidence level is pretty high,” first baseman Toby Helgeson said. “We’re still humble because we know we can lose like we did earlier in the year. Right now, since we have won [20 of our last 22] games, we know we’re capable of winning. We’re hitting the ball really well so I think our confidence level is pretty high because of how we’re hitting and playing all around.”
A PLAN AT THE PLATE
The success that Alexandria had at the district tournament didn’t come by accident. Munsch said the team charts pitches on guys they are facing throughout the season. They track tendencies with the opposition with the hope that information will benefit them later in the summer.
Guys are taking that and going to the plate with a certain approach. Moorhead pitcher Derek Jorgenson had shut down Alexandria during the regular season. In the title game on Sunday, he lasted just 1 1/3 innings against an Alexandria team that knew exactly what it wanted to do at the plate.
“For instance, when we faced Moorhead Kris Setterstrom saw probably 95 percent curveballs,” Munsch said. “He was not looking for fastballs. He was up at the plate looking for curveballs and had plenty of hits on the weekend off of curveballs. We understood what we were looking for. We understood the counts, 2-0 what are we looking for? It all helped.”
For this group of players, playoff success has often hinged on how well they would hit in pressure situations. Alexandria has always felt good about the arms it has and the way it can play defense over the past two school and Legion seasons.
Add to that an offense that erupted for a .345 team batting average this summer, and it’s not all that surprising that Post 87 has been able to run off the wins that they have.
“I feel that too,” graduated senior Mitch Thompson said after hitting .464 in 112 at-bats. “We’ve always been really strong pitching and defense wise so the games we’ve really lost have been due to us not hitting the ball. We’ve really been stroking the ball these last 20-some games. We’re really confident in that and that we’re going to go up there and spank the ball around the park.”
Everyone is contributing at the plate. Blake Stockert is known for his ability on the mound and has just 23 at-bats this summer, but five have resulted in home runs. Alexandria has nine players hitting higher than .300, ranging from guys with limited at-bats to players like Thompson and Helgeson (.475) who are leading the team at the top of the order.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re starting or not,” Helgeson said. “We’ll put guys in if we’re up by a lot and they’ll get hits. Everybody is getting hits, and it’s fun.”
SUSTAINING SUCCESS AT STATE
The hope for Alexandria is that this team can keep producing at the state tournament like it has over the last month.
There’s no doubt that Post 87 will go into their game this Friday against Lakeville North as a confident group. They also know how good the competition will be down there, and that they need to keep clicking in all facets to win some games.
“If we get down to the state tournament and we start making mistakes and we don’t do things right, we’re going to lose,” Munsch said. “It’s too good of competition to make those mistakes. If we get down there and keep playing like we’re playing, we’re going to compete. That’s just the way it is.”
Munsch said he has a group of players who are confident, but not arrogant. They were humbled early in the season and know how quickly things can change in baseball. Their torrid stretch of play over the last month is proof of that.
Alexandria knows it won’t be favored in the minds of a lot of people at the state tournament. Outstate teams seldom are against the powers from the metro area. But Post 87 has beaten some good teams to get there, and is excited to see how that will translate against the best teams in Minnesota.
“We’re trying to do well,” Helgeson said. “It would be awesome to win it, but we’ll see. We have a tough pool. We have Brainerd and Lakeville North and teams like that so we’re just going to take it one game at a time, and hopefully win a couple.”