Card baseball: Alexandria wins home opener
It wasn't the classic home run moment for Alexandria's Jordan Domine on Tuesday night.
That feeling of connecting on the sweet spot and knowing it's gone from the moment the ball leaves the bat? That is not how the senior catcher recalled his three-run shot in the bottom of the first inning during the Cardinals home opener.
"I thought it was just a little blooper out there to right field," Domine said. "I guess it just carried, and it kept going. Thanks to the two guys who got on base in front of me. It wouldn't have happened without them."
His shot to the opposite field capped off a rally that started with two outs and got Alexandria going in a game it went on to win 7-5. The Cardinals coaching staff believes six runs should be enough to win almost every game this season with their pitching staff. That jolt by Domine got them well on their way to that magic number in a game they never trailed.
"That was a big first inning," head coach Russ Hinrichs said. "To get Dom to come through with that three-run home run kind of got us off the goose egg right away. There's pressure there this year because I think the kids are kind of pressing to score runs. Anytime we score seven runs, we should be able to win most games with our pitching."
Beau Backhaus was proof of that after pitching a gem against the Tigers. The junior righthander used his offspeed stuff to keep Tech off balance all night. He went to Domine before the game and told him to call a curve ball on the first pitch of the game.
That set the tone for the rest of his six innings. Backhaus used that curve and a changeup to frustrate Tech batters all night. He struck out six while allowing just three hits and three unearned runs to pick up the win.
"I try to utilize the offspeed stuff and not try to mess around with the fastball as much as I should probably," he said. "The curveball was working pretty nice tonight, and the changeup, I was getting a couple guys with that too. It felt good."
Backhaus was cruising through four innings before Tech got to him for two unearned runs in the fifth. A bleeder through the infield led off the inning and stopped a stretch of 10 straight batters retired for Backhaus. The next batter followed with a sinking liner to center field that hit the ground and deflected off the glove of Nick Knoblach.
Two errors allowed the Tigers to cut Alexandria's lead in half on that play. A relay to third to cut off the lead runner went to the fence and allowed the first run to come in. The throw from third to home then got away from Domine, allowing the second run to score as third baseman Erich Murphy couldn't make the tag at the plate on a throw that pulled him up the first-base line.
Backhaus had to do some damage control after that. He settled down nicely, escaping the inning with the two-run lead still intact despite four errors already on the board for Alexandria.
"I just try to do my best," Backhaus said of moving past the errors. "Try not to show my frustration too much. Usually that kind of helps the team to refocus...there's a lot of potential out there in the field, and it's only the second game of the season."
The feeling among players and coaches is that that potential will yield better results as the season goes on. The Cardinals are working with an entirely new outfield and trying to replace a three-year starter in Dalton Leuschke at shortstop.
"We're working right now with Buck [Smith] and Ben [Allen at short] and those guys are pushing each other and competing," Hinrichs said. "Those guys are going to get better. There's no doubt defensively we have to play better. I think we're very solid at third with Murphy, but our outfield, we're replacing all of our outfielders, so there's a lot of youth out there."
Allen made up for a couple of those errors with two hits and a big at-bat in the sixth. He came up with two out in a one-run game and gave his team some breathing room with an RBI double. Patrick Leary followed by reaching on an error before Gideon Burnham drilled a two-RBI double that made it a 7-3 game.
Those two runs proved to be the difference in the game. Knoblach came on to close things out in the seventh and gave up two runs on a triple off the wall. He eliminated any more drama by getting the next batter on a strikeout looking to end the game.
"Those three runs in the bottom of the sixth were huge," Hinrichs said. "The biggest thing tonight was we had good two-out hitting."
That timely hitting will be important all spring for a team that believes it has the pitching to compete on a nightly basis.
"Just kind of shows what's to come for the season," Backhaus said. "Eighteen games left. Hopefully, we can do it the same way we played tonight."
ST. CLOUD TECH 000 021 2 - 5 4 2
ALEXANDRIA 301 003 X - 7 7 4
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Backhaus - W, 6IP, 3H, 3R, 0ER, 0BB, 6SO; Knoblach - 1IP, 2R
ALEXANDRIA HITS - Allen - 2; Burnham - 2; AJ Anderson - 1; Domine - 1; Murphy - 1