The Alexandria VFW 16s have played 41 games this summer and they have a few more to look forward to after securing a spot in the VFW state tournament with a 16-5 win over Starbuck on Tuesday night.
Alexandria led Starbuck 11-5 in the sixth inning on Monday when rain suspended the game in Spicer. They resumed play at the Minnewaska Area High School field on Tuesday and Alexandria scored five more to earn its trip to state and erase the memory of a 3-2 loss in game one of the championship on Monday.
"I've seen this team have many more good games than bad," head coach Orin Schueler said. "We had a couple tough losses and they seem to always bounce back. I've been really happy about that. They've given an old coach a lot of great thrills this summer, and I've had a wonderful experience."
The 16s put that loss in game one behind them right away in game two with five runs in the first inning. They added five more in the third and never let top-seeded Starbuck believe it had a chance to get back in it.
Casey Hammerback led the offensive charge with three hits and four RBIs.
"He has really come on toward the end of the year," Schueler said. "He's had a really good run here."
Hammerback was hardly alone, though. Cody Weisel had three singles and three RBIs. Brayden Anderson added two hits, including a double. Kris Setterstrom had two hits and two RBIs, while Spencer Lucas added a single, a double and two RBIs. Kaden Anderson went 2-for-6 as well.
That helped make a winner out of Cole McLaughlin. He threw four innings on Monday night, allowing five runs, four earned, on three hits and five walks. McLaughlin struck out four before Danny Kuhn took over as the rain got heavier in the late innings. Kuhn took the mound again on Tuesday to work the final three innings, allowing just two hits and a walk, while striking out two.
Game one was a battle from the first pitch between two good pitchers in Alexandria's Micah Hedstrom and Starbuck's Riley Thompson. Hedstrom took a tough loss in eight innings of work. He struck out two, scattered six hits and walked three but held Starbuck to just the three earned runs. Thompson was just a little bit better. He also got the game-winning hit on a double that drove in a runner that was on first in the eighth inning.
"The first game was really a great game," Schueler said. "It was just a tremendous game. We had chances to win and didn't do it, and they had a chance to win and were able to capitalize."
Alexandria couldn't dwell on that for long. The 16s had to put that loss behind them and getting the five runs in the first inning of game two set the tone for how things would go the rest of the way.
"They were really down after the game," Schueler said. "We got together and said, "look, it was just a great baseball game.' We had to tip our hats to the other team. They came up with the hit. That's the way baseball goes. We had to forget about that and come back swinging right away. They did that."
Their reward is a trip to Ely next Thursday for the VFW state tournament, where they will play Ely at noon to kick off the day. The tournament will run through Sunday with all the games being played in Ely.
With the win, the VFW 16s joined the Post 87 Legion team in representing Alexandria in a state tournament.
"When I look around at all the other communities in the area and the teams in our league in the CLC, I think our baseball is really on the upswing," Schueler said. "We had 36 players in the VFW program this summer. That's a lot more than many schools. Even the bigger schools have trouble fielding one team. Willmar next year will have one VFW team, and it's a good indication that we're on the upswing and there are some good ball players, too."
The Alexandria 16s will take a 30-11 record into the tournament next week. Between their summer schedule and their school schedule, they have played around 60 games in roughly a three-month period.
"It's good for the kids because they really have improved throughout the season, playing that many games," Schueler said. "Considering these guys started in the snow in the gym months ago. Once they got out, I think they had 20-some games on the high school JV team...there really has been a lot of games over a number of months, but it contributes to their improvement."
Alexandria 16, Starbuck 5
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - McLaughlin - W, 4IP, 5R, 4ER, 3H, 5BB, 4SO; Kuhn - 3IP, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 2SO
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Anderson - 2-6; Weisel - 3 1B, 3 RBI; Amundson - 2-3, 2B; Setterstrom - 2 hits, 2 RBI; Lucas - 1B, 2B, RBI; Hammerback - 3-4, 4 RBI
Starbuck 3, Alexandria 2
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Hedstrom - L, 8IP, 6H, 3R, 3ER, 3BB, 2SO
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Anderson - 2 hits; Setterstrom - 2 hits; Lucas - 1 hit; Travis Krueger - 1 hit; Parker Revering - 1 hit; Amundson - 1 hit