Legion baseball: Pitching stands out against state's best
Pitching has led the Fat Daddy's Alexandria American Legion Post 87 baseball team all season and that didn't change against the top competition in Minnesota at the Legion state tournament this past weekend.
Alexandria had chances to win all three of its games in Chaska before coming home with a 1-2 record at the tournament. Post 87 allowed just six earned runs in 27 innings along the way as Beau Backhaus, Blake Stockert, A.J. Anderson and Nick Knoblach combined to shut the door on three impressive lineups.
"We hung right with the best in the state all the way to the end," head coach Kevin Engebretson said. "It was fun to see our guys leave it all out on the field. The tournament was a great opportunity for our guys, and they showed that they can play with the best of the best."
That's exactly who they faced in their final two games as Post 87 fell 6-5 against fifth-ranked Eden Prairie and 2-1 against fourth-ranked Edina. That came after a ninth-inning rally gave Alexandria a 4-2 win over Chaska in the opening round.
Post 87 held a 5-3 lead over last year's Legion World Series champions before a three-run seventh inning gave Eden Prairie all it would need to hold on. Two walks and an RBI-single knocked Anderson from the game as he gave the ball to Knoblach, clinging to a 5-4 lead.
Eden Prairie greeted Knoblach with a single and a double that tied the game up at five apiece. A runner was cut down at the plate on the one-out double, but with two outs, a high fastball got past the catcher and allowed Eden Prairie to come in with what turned out to be the winning run.
Alexandria tried to rally in the ninth. Gideon Burnham reached on an error with one out before Christian Anderson ran for him and stole second on a ball in the dirt. Eden Prairie went to closer Cody Wetmore after that. Wetmore came in and shut the door with a strikeout and groundball to third that ended Alexandria's season.
"It was a tough way to go out as we had an excellent team on the ropes for most of the game," Engebretson said. "It was also another very hard-fought game by our guys, and I am extremely proud of the way they played throughout."
Stockert left perhaps the biggest impression of the weekend for Alexandria as the soon-to-be junior dominated in a complete-game performance against fourth-ranked Edina in the nightcap on Friday. The hard-throwing lefty gave up a couple early runs, just one earned, before settling in and posting zeroes through the final six innings.
Stockert gave his team every chance to pull off the upset. He allowed just three hits and three walks in nine innings, striking out seven on one of the biggest stages he has pitched in during his young career.
"Blake was really outstanding," Engebretson said. "They've got lots of great hitters all the way through their lineup, and he just dominated the game. It was extremely fun to see him go out there and compete on the big stage and play with emotion...He was really lights out, and I am really proud of the way he competed and took ownership of the game for his teammates."
Alexandria just couldn't scrape enough together on offense to get him the win. Post 87 had seven hits in the game but didn't score until the seventh. Erich Murphy led off with his third hit of the night that inning before Knoblach brought him in three batters later on a ground out to the right side of the infield.
Post 87 had other chances in the middle innings. They loaded the bases in the fifth with two outs but couldn't get the hit they needed. Back-to-back singles by Grant Becker and Zach Peterson put runners on first and second in the fourth. A missed sacrifice attempt and a double play followed as the two runners were stranded in a 2-0 game.
"Those were two really big innings for us offensively, and we hoped to get more out of it," Engebretson said. "We just didn't execute well enough and Edina made the plays."
Alexandria made the plays against the host team, Chaska, to come away with its only win of the tournament earlier that day. Post 87 found themselves in a 2-2 game heading into the ninth before pushing across two runs that held up in the bottom half of the inning.
Alexandria used its speed to force the issue in the ninth. Jeff Swedberg got things going with a one out double before Knoblach made it first and third with a single. Grant Becker followed with a perfectly executed safety squeeze to push the go-ahead run across. Post 87 added an insurance run on an error a batter later to take a two-run lead into the final half inning.
"It was a great situation for us with speed on the bases and a good bunter up at the plate," Engebretson said of the squeeze play. "This is something we have done quite a bit this summer in this exact situation, and the guys get all the credit for executing it to perfection."
That was enough offense to get Backhaus the win. He got the first out of the ninth before giving way to Knoblach with runners on first and third and one out. Knoblach got the first batter to pop up to Becker at first base before inducing a ground ball to short that Peterson gobbled up and flipped to second for the final out.
"Both pitchers have been great up there with the ball all year, getting better and better each time out," Engebretson said of Backhaus and Knoblach. "They did it again today - an outstanding effort by those guys to keep us in it and take care of business at the end."
They were part of an Alexandria pitching staff that finished with a 2.87 team ERA this summer. Backhaus led the way by going 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings of work. Stockert had a 2.80 ERA and fanned 56 in 55 innings, while Knoblach struck out 36 and posted a 2.23 ERA in 50 1/3 innings.
All three will be back with the Cardinals' baseball team next spring. They are part of a strong nucleus that will return after Post 87 wrapped up its summer season with an overall record of 23-15.
ALEXANDRIA 020 120 000 - 5 8 2
E. PRAIRIE 200 010 30X - 6 11 6
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - A.J. Anderson - 6 1/3IP, 8H, 5R, 4ER, 8BB, 3SO
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - A.J. Anderson - 1-4, BB, 1 run; Burnham - 1-4, BB, 1 run; Murphy - 1 run; Knoblach - 1-5, RBI; Backhaus - 1-5; Pat Leary - 1-5, 2 runs, RBI; Becker - 1-4, BB, RBI; Swedberg - 1-4; Peterson - 1-4
EDINA 011 000 000 - 2 3 0
ALEXANDRIA 000 000 100 - 1 7 3
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Stockert - L, 9IP, 3H, 2R, 1ER, 3BB, 7SO
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Murphy - 3-4, 2B, 1 run; Knoblach - BB, RBI; Becker - 1-4; Swedberg - 1-2; Stockert - 1-4, 2B; Peterson - 1-4
ALEXANDRIA 001 000 102 - 4 9 4
CHASKA 011 000 000 - 2 7 5
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Backhaus - W, 8 1/3IP, 7H, 2R, 1ER, 0BB, 4SO; Knoblach - S, 2/3IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 0SO
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Burnham - 1-4; Murphy - 1-4; Knoblach - 2-3, 2 BB, 2 runs; Becker - 1-4, RBI; Swedberg - 2-4, 2B, 2 runs; Peterson - 2-4, BB, 2 RBI
Eric Morken Eric Morken started as a sports reporter for the Echo Press on July 9, 2007. He is a graduate of Augustana College in Sioux Falls where he majored in journalism and minored in history and communications. In his spare time, Morken enjoys hunting and fishing or just being in the outdoors. He is also an avid Minnesota sports fan. Follow Sports Reporter Eric Morken on Twitter at @echo_sports. Read Eric's sports blog, More with Morken at Areavoices.