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Beetles' baseball: It's all over

Eric Morken, Echo Press Beetles all-star reliever Anthony Bazzani could not watch as Mankato celebrated its North Division title after a 5-3 win on Wednesday night. The Eastern Kentucky righthander finished the summer with a 1.66 ERA after throwing the final four innings for Alexandria in game three.1 / 3
Eric Morken, Echo Press Beetles outfielder Chad Bunting (left) was all smiles coming off the field with Kevin Grove after Bunting drove in the winning run in game two of the best-of-three series. Bunting walked on a 3-2 pitch to end things in 10 innings on Tuesday night.2 / 3
Eric Morken, Echo Press Outfielders Kevin Grove (left), Chad Bunting (middle) and Will Fulmer go over strategy with field manager Matt Hancock after a ball had dropped in front of Fulmer in right field during game two.3 / 3

The Alexandria Beetles saw their best season in franchise history come to an abrupt end in game three of the North Division playoffs on Wednesday night.

A team that has come up with the big hit all summer could not find the one to save its season. The Beetles left 11 men on base, including the tying run on third in the bottom of the seventh.

Mankato responded in the next inning by squeezing across a run off all-star Anthony Bazzani. Alexandria could never mount another threat as the MoonDogs moved on to play for a Northwoods League title after the 5-3 win.

"It's frustrating because we had several opportunities early on and in the middle part of the game to put a lot of runs up," field manager Matt Hancock said. "We were getting the hits, we just didn't execute well with runners in scoring position. To see that happen, when we have really done that well all year, is kind of something that you scratch your head at a little bit. But we just came up short. It wasn't because of a lack of effort."

A magical second half of the season looked like it might carry over into the playoffs after Tuesday night. The Beetles forced a game three with a walk-off, 4-3 win in 10 innings in game two. Chad Bunting walked in the winning run on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded and two outs.

Alexandria carried that momentum into the early innings of game three. Kevin Grove ignited the home crowd with a two-run shot that gave the Beetles a 2-0 lead in the fourth.

Will Fulmer got that inning started with a four-pitch walk. Grove came up and showed off his power to the opposite field as he took a 1-1 pitch over the right field wall.

Mankato answered with a four run top of the fifth to take a lead it would not give back. Beetles' starter Matt Fyffe gave up a one-out single before issuing three straight walks to bring in the first run.

Fyffe did not get the calls on a couple of close pitches in those at-bats. He settled down to get the second out on a pop up before coaxing a ground ball to short.

Shortstop Nick Gumm fielded the ball and looked at second before deciding to throw on to first. That hesitation allowed Zak Wasserman to beat the throw as the tying run scored and the inning was extended. The MoonDogs' Chris Ross followed with a two-out single to give Mankato the 4-2 lead.

"I thought he changed his strike zone tremendously," Hancock said of the home plate umpire. "I thought we had two guys struck out in the inning and that's a shame when the umpire kind of grabs control of the game."

The Beetles had their chances to answer back. They put runners on first and third with nobody out in the bottom of the fifth but settled for just one run. Will Fulmer reached on a fielder's choice that brought in Rick Devereaux before the inning ended on a Kevin Grove ground out.

Alexandria faced a similar situation trailing by just one in the seventh. Tanner Vavra and Devereaux were on second and third with one out and Mike Theofanopolous at the plate. The California outfielder sent a sharp ground ball right to first in a drawn-in infield.

Fullmer followed with a walk to load the bases, but Grove grounded out to the left side of the infield to end the threat. Those missed opportunities were too much for Alexandria to overcome down the stretch.

"No one wants to go out like that," third-year Beetles pitcher Kevin Vangheluwe said. "We played well, just couldn't get a few hits when we needed them, which is something we haven't had a problem with all year. Hitting has never been a problem for us, but everyone played their hardest and that's all you can ask for."

Vangheluwe was dominant in his final appearance in an Alexandria uniform in game two. He got his ninth win of the season after working 3 2/3 hitless innings.

He worked out of a jam in the seventh that preserved a 3-3 tie before cruising through the next three frames. It is those kind of moments that the veteran righty will remember most about this season.

"It was more than just the playoffs for us," Vangheluwe said. "I made 30 new friends this summer. Of the three summers (he spent with the Beetles), I'm going to remember this the rest of my life. It was the best time I've ever had."

It is a group that will likely be remembered as the best team in Beetles history to this point. They set a new franchise record for wins (45) and finished with the most second-half wins in NWL history at 28-11.

"I just told them whether they realize it or not, they all became better baseball players this summer," Hancock said. "And in the grand scheme of things, that's what it's all about. I_just thanked them for all the time and effort they put into it.

"They came to the ballpark every day ready to play and really did everything I asked them to do. That's a special group. That's really a special group right there."


MANKATO 000 040 010 - 5 10 0

ALEXANDRIA 000 210 000 - 3 10 1

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Matt Fyffe - L, 5IP, 7H, 4R, 4ER, 4BB, 3SO; Anthony Bazzani - 4IP, 3H, 1R, 1ER, 2BB, 5SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Ben Magsig - 0-5; Tanner Vavra - 2-4, HBP; Rick Devereaux - 2-4, BB, 2B, 1 run; Chad Bunting - 2-4; Mike Theofanopolous - 0-5; Will Fulmer - 0-2, 2 BB, 1 run, RBI; Kevin Grove - 2-4, HR, 2B, 1 run, 2 RBI; Robert Case - 1-4; Nick Gumm - 1-3

MANKATO 000 002 100 0 - 3 8 4

ALEXANDRIA 020 010 000 1 - 4 9 1

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Jon Reed - 6 1/3IP, 8H, 3R, 2ER, 0BB, 4SO; Kevin Vangheluwe - W, 3 2/3IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 2SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Magsig - 0-4, 2 BB; Vavra - 0-6; Devereaux - 3-4, HR, 2 BB, 1 run, RBI; Bunting - 2-5, BB, RBI; LeViseur - 0-3, BB; Theofanopolous - 0-1; Fulmer - 2-5, 1 run; Grove - 1-4, BB, 1 run; Case - 1-4, 2B, 2 RBI; Gumm - 0-3, BB, 1 run

ALEXANDRIA 020 000 200 - 4 5 6

MANKATO 012 023 110 - 10 10 3

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Michael Reed - L, 5IP, 6H, 5R, 5ER, 4BB, 4SO; Michael Schweiss - 2IP, 4H, 4R, 0ER, 1BB, 3SO; Scott Sanderson - 1IP, 0H, 1R, 0ER, 1BB, 2SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Magsig - 1-4, BB, 1 run, RBI; Vavra - 0-3; Devereaux - 0-3, 2 BB, 1 run; Bunting - 1-5; Theofanopolous - 1-4, 2 RBI; Fulmer - 0-4, 1 run; Grove - 1-4, 1 run; Case - 1-3; Gumm - 0-4, RBI

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229