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Alexandria 16s second baseman Michael Helgeson tries to turn a double play as the Alexandria 15s’ Brock Anderson slides into second to help break it up in the district title game on Monday night. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)

VFW 15s ready for state

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sports Alexandria, 56308
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

The Alexandria VFW 15s are headed to the state tournament after defeating the city rival VFW 16s in the championship game of the district tournament on Monday.

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Both Alexandria VFW teams found themselves in the district finals and playing for a berth in the state tournament. The VFW 15s had won every game on its way to the finals, defeating the VFW 16s in the semifinals and sending them to the loser’s bracket. But the VFW 16s won their way through the loser’s bracket for a rematch in the district championship.

Things looked bleak for the VFW 15s after losing 15-0 in the first game between the two teams, setting up a winner-takes-all championship game.

But VFW 15s starting pitcher Jake Drew led his team to a 6-4 victory in the second game for the spot in the state tournament.

“We talked about wanting to win the game, and it seemed like the first game we didn’t really care,” Drew said. “So we came out firing in the second game.”

The VFW 16s took an early lead in the top of the third inning in the decisive second game. Wyatt Wittenburg scored on a balk, and catcher Noah Hittle singled in two runs for a 3-0 lead.

But the VFW 15s came storming back to take a 4-3 lead in the top of the fourth inning. Micah Christenson and Brock Anderson drove in one RBI each on singles, and Connor Hammerback drove in two RBIs on a base hit.

Hammerback said he was waiting for a fastball in his at-bat that drove in the game-tying run in the bottom of the fourth.

“I took a couple pitches waiting for my fastball, and I got it,” Hammerback said. “And I ripped it right up the middle.”

The VFW 16s tied the game 4-4 in the next half inning on another RBI single by Hittle, setting up an exciting finish.

The VFW 15s finally broke through with the final two runs of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Hunter Schoenrock drove in the game-winning run on an RBI single, scoring Hammerback. Drew would also later score on a wild pitch for the 6-4 lead.

“I was sitting off-speed, and he threw me a curveball,” Schoenrock said about his single that drove in the go-ahead run. “I was a little ahead of it, but I still got the bat on the ball.”

Drew then set down the VFW 16s’ bats in order in the top of the seventh inning for the 6-4 victory. Drew gave up zero earned runs for the complete-game victory, and said his focus was to go out and keep the VFW 16s from any big innings.

“Just keep pitching the way I was,” Drew said. “Everybody makes errors; it’s not the defense’s fault. It happens.”

In the first game blowout loss, VFW 15s head coach Beau Backhaus felt the team was not prepared to play for the district title. They talked about being mentally prepared between the two games, and the talk paid off.

“I think we were fired up,” Backhaus said about the second game on Monday. “I don’t think we were ready the first game, and once we got behind we just put our heads down and kept going down and down. In that second game we came out ready to go, came out with some fire, and played great.”

Henry Wirtjes was the starting pitcher for the VFW 16s in both games on Monday. Head coach Parker Giroux said they decided to pull Wirtjes from the first game after four innings to give the steady pitcher a chance to hold down the VFW 15s in the second game.

“When you’re ahead by 15 runs and your best pitcher is throwing, [I] took him out and figured, ‘Hey, why not start him the second game?’” said Giroux.

Giroux was happy with the way the team bounced back from an earlier tournament loss to the VFW 15s to pick up a 15-run victory in the first game. He knew winning two games against the same team would be tough, but he told the VFW 16s to just go out and play their best game of baseball.

“I thought we played pretty well,” Giroux said. “We pitched well, we fielded well, we hit the ball fairly well. But it was two good teams going at it, and one team had to win it.”

STATE EXPECTATIONS

The VFW 15s were already setting some high expectations for the state tournament after winning the district tournament on Monday.

The players all had a “let’s win it” attitude about the upcoming state tournament, and Backhaus echoed those thoughts.

“Let’s go out and win state,” he said. “When we’re playing well we’ve got the pitching and the hitting to go out there and win state.”

The VFW state tournament will be played August 7-10 in Brainerd.

GAME RESULTS

VFW 16s – 003 010 0 – 4 6 1

VFW 15s – 000 402 X – 6 13 2

PITCHING – VFW 15s – Jake Drew – W, 7IP, 4R, 0ER, 6H, 1BB 10SO; VFW 16s – Henry Wirtjes – 3 2/3IP, 4R, 4ER, 0SO, 0BB; Brady Burgau – L, 2IP, 2R, 2ER, 1SO, 3BB; Chase Faber – 1/3IP, 0R, 0H, 0BB, 0SO

OFFENSE – VFW 15s – Micah Christenson – 1-4, run, RBI; Connor Hammerback – 2-4, 2 runs, 2 RBIs; Jake Drew – 2-3, run 2B, BB; Brock Anderson – 2-4, RBI; Hunter Schoenrock – 2-4, RBI; Blake Anderson – 1-3 BB; Brady Burgau – 1-3, BB, run; Chase Faber – 1-3, BB; Mack Strong – 1-3

VFW 16s – Sam Helgeson – 1-4, run; Brayden Amundson – 1-4, run; Michael Helgeson – 1-4, run; Noah Hittle – 2-4, 3 RBIs; Cole McLaughlin – 0-4; Jack Steffl – 1-3; Jared Gessel – 0-3; Wyatt Wittenburg – 0-2, run; Blake Radkte – 0-2

VFW 16s – 534 30 – 15 13 2

VFW 15s – 000 00 – 0 2 2

PITCHING – VFW 16s – Henry Wirtjes – W, 4IP, 1H, 0R, 4SO, 0BB; Quinn Gibson – 1IP, 0R, 2SO, 1H, 0BB; VFW 15s – Hunter Schoenrock – L, 2IP, 8R, 8H, 2SO, 1BB; Chase Faber – 2IP, 7R, 5H, 4BB, 1SO; Brady Burgau – 1IP, 0R, 0H, 1SO, 0BB

OFFENSE – VFW 16s – Jack Steffl – 2-3, 2B, 3B, 4RBIs; Sam Helgeson – 3-4, 2B, 3 runs, 2 RBIs; VFW 15s – Blake Anderson – 1-2; Zach Tvrdik – 1-2

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