Card baseball: Alexandria suffers another heartbreaker in 8AAA playoffs
The Alexandria baseball team is no stranger to heartbreaking endings to a season.
The Cardinals have been one game away from a state tournament berth in two of the last three years only to come up short. On Monday, they suffered a similar gut-wrenching ending with a chance to secure a spot in the Section 8AAA semifinals.
Alexandria beat St. Cloud Tech 4-3 in game one on Monday before playing host St. Michael-Albertville for the right to advance to the double-elimination format in St. Cloud. The Cardinals led 2-1 heading into the seventh inning before the Knights scored twice to walk-off with a 3-2 win.
"I think as we left yesterday, it was more just shock than anything else," head coach Russ Hinrichs said on Tuesday. "I think the kids played hard all day. I'm not going to say we played our best baseball that we've played all season, but the kids competed. It ranks right up there with one of the more difficult losses I've had to endure as a head coach."
The Cardinals went to what has worked for them all season in closer Nick Knoblach. The hard-throwing junior took over for starter AJ Anderson in the bottom of the seventh. Knoblach issued a walk and a hit batter to the first two guys he faced before a bunt loaded the bases with nobody out.
With the infield in, the Knights hit a groundball that got away from Alexandria, allowing the tying run to score. Knoblach threw a curveball high in the following at-bat that tipped off catcher Jordan Domine's glove. The ball got away far enough to allow the Knights' runner at third to come home with the winning run.
"Nick has come in and done a super job all year," Hinrichs said. "We talked as a staff during the heat of the moment, I think maybe there were some nerves there. He didn't look like the same guy we've seen all year."
Anderson gave the Cardinals a good chance with six strong innings. The senior allowed just two hits and one earned run. He issued four walks but struck out seven to help himself out.
Anderson kept the Knights scoreless before they finally got to him for a single run in the fifth. He loaded the bases with nobody out but got out of it with just the one run allowed. His defense also helped him out as Jeff Swedberg threw out a runner at the plate that inning.
The Cardinals answered with two runs in the top of the sixth to take their first lead. Knoblach reached on an error to start that frame before stealing second and coming around to score on a throwing error. Anderson followed with a two-out hit that scored Ben Allen later in the inning to give himself a slim cushion.
"I think the biggest disappointment was AJ had pitched so well," Hinrichs said. "He competed and threw what I felt was his best game as a Cardinal."
Alexandria got to Anderson on the mound for game two by holding on for the one-run win over the Tigers earlier in the day.
St. Cloud Tech came in as the 12th seed but battled throughout the afternoon. The Cardinals fell behind 2-0 after the first inning and it stayed that way until the bottom of the fourth.
That's when Alexandria responded with a four-run inning. Senior Logan Serum had the biggest hit of the frame with a triple that scored Gideon Burnham and pinch runner Christian Anderson. Erich Murphy followed with a single to make it a 4-2 game.
The combination of Beau Backhaus and Blake Stockert made that lead hold up. Backhaus allowed two runs on seven hits and two walks through 4 2/3 innings. He settled down after the first inning before giving way to Stockert with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth.
The sophomore lefty got out of that jam with a strikeout. Stockert gave up one hit and an unearned run over the final two innings to pick up the save.
The loss to the Knights later that day marked an end to the Alexandria careers of eight seniors. Domine, Jordan Smith, Ty Kisthart, Aaron Billberg, Murphy, Burnham, Anderson and Serum all played in their final game in a Cardinal uniform on Monday.
They will leave after putting together a nice run late in the season. The Cardinals finished 13-9 overall and were winners of seven of their last eight games.
ALEXANDRIA 000 002 0 - 2 4 4
STMA 000 010 2 - 3 2 1
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Anderson - 6IP, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 4BB, 7SO; Knoblach - L, 0IP, 0H, 2R, 2ER, 1BB, 0SO
ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Anderson - 2-3, RBI; Serum - 1-3; Allen - 1-3, 1 run; Knoblach - BB, 1 run
ST. CLOUD TECH 200 001 0 - 3 8 2
ALEXANDRIA 000 400 X - 4 4 3
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Backhaus - W, 4 2/3IP, 7H, 2R, 2ER, 2BB, 5SO; Stockert - S, 2 1/3IP, 1H, 1R, 0ER, 1BB, 1SO
ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Knoblach - BB; Allen - 2-3; Serum - 1-2, 3B, BB, 1 run, 2 RBI; Anderson - 2 BB, 1 run; Burnham - BB, 1 run; Murphy - 1-2, RBI; Stockert - BB; Anderson - 1 run
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.