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Legion baseball: One last rally earns bid to state

Pictured for the Post 87 Legion baseball team are (front, left to right) Christian Anderson, Chris Leary, Parker Bowden, Jeff Swedberg, Nick Knoblach, Zach Peterson and Mitch Thompson. Back, left to right, are coach Chris Koep, Beau Backhaus, Cody McLaughlin, Patrick Leary, Grant Becker, Toby Helgeson, Blake Stockert, Ben Allen, Ben Kluver and head coach Jake Munsch. (Contributed photo)

The Alexandria Legion baseball team has shown an ability to battle back all summer, so it was only fitting that Post 87 did it one more time on their way to a Division I Legion state tournament berth.

Alexandria got a two-run home run from Cody McLaughlin in the first inning of Monday night's title game against Bemidji but still trailed 4-2 after one. Blake Stockert settled in on the mound after that and the Post 87 bats came to life in a big way on their way to an 18-5 win.

"We felt really good when Cody hit that home run that finally we would start with a lead," head coach Jake Munsch said. "Then Blake would come in and set the tone right away, but he struggled a little bit in the first. They scored four runs and kept things normal for the weekend. We had to constantly battle."

That's how things went until Alexandria turned a 4-3 deficit into a 9-4 lead with six runs in the fifth. That was just the beginning as Post 87 added four runs over the next three frames before putting up five in the ninth. That final inning was highlighted by Beau Backhaus' first-ever home run, a three run shot that put the finishing touches on a memorable tournament run.

"That was unbelievable," Munsch said. "That ball was absolutely crushed."

That was the theme of the night for an Alexandria offense that hit the ball hard all over the park for 14 hits. Backhaus finished with two hits and four RBIs, while Mitch Thompson had two hits, a walk, three runs scored and an RBI.

Parker Bowden and Patrick Leary continued to be the catalysts, though. Bowden came up big for this team by moving over to shortstop from second base for four games after Zach Peterson suffered an injury after colliding with the left fielder in game two against Thief River Falls.

Bowden didn't miss a beat with the glove or at the plate. He capped off his week by reaching base five times on three hits and two walks. He drove in three and scored once. Leary was equally as important after going 3-for-4 with two walks, four runs and an RBI. He also caught 22 innings on Sunday before going back behind the plate for nine on Monday.

"What Parker Bowden did this weekend is absolutely amazing," Munsch said. "The fact that he could move over to shortstop and make all the plays and hit the ball like he did, it says a lot about our team. You look at Patrick Leary's stats for the weekend, both him and Bowden were fabulous. Everybody was but those were the standouts."

Stockert got the win through six innings of work on the mound. He allowed just one run after that four-run first inning and finished with three strikeouts. Bowden and Backhaus also combined to throw three scoreless innings on top of what they did offensively.

It's a group of players who felt they had what it takes to make a run to the state tournament during the school season this past spring before coming up just short. They were able to avenge that a bit with the way they battled through the loser's bracket to earn a trip to the state legion tournament.

"There definitely was a big-time buzz in our dugout," Munsch said. You could tell the guys were really excited going into the ninth inning, talking about jumping over the dugout and running on the field. Seeing them celebrate on the field was a great sense of accomplishment, not only for the players but for [assistant coach] Chris [Koep] and me too."

Adding to the accomplishment was the fact that they did it against a bigger and more competitive field this year. Post 87 was one of just four teams in their district last summer. The Sub-State 14 district featured eight teams with depth that showed by seventh-seeded Bemidji making a run all the way to the championship.

"The competition level, I believe, is harder," Munsch said. "It's a whole different situation and to be the first to go through that and come out as the champion is a huge accomplishment."

Now Post 87 will try to add to an already successful summer. They will open up play at 1 p.m. today, Friday, against Burnsville at Round Lake Park in Eden Prairie. Burnsville is ranked No. 1 in the Legion state rankings on the final pre-state polls that were released on July 30.

Munsch said Tuesday that he plans to go with either Backhaus or Stockert in the opener and said he has confidence in either one of those guys.


ALEXANDRIA 201 061 125 - 18 14

BEMIDJI 400 001 000 - 5 10 1

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Stockert - W, 6IP, 6H, 5R, 4ER, 3BB, 3SO; Backhaus - 2IP, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 1SO; Bowden - 1IP, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 0SO

ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Jeff Swedberg - 0-2, 2 BB, 2 runs; P. Leary - 3-4, 2 BB, 4 runs, RBI; Toby Helgeson - 1-6, 1 run, 2 RBI; Thompson - 2-4, BB, 3 runs, RBI; Ben Allen - 1-6, 1 run, RBI; Christian Anderson - 0-1; Bowden - 3-4, 2 BB, 1 run, 3 RBI; Nick Knoblach - 0-5, BB, 1 run; Backhaus - 2-5, HR, 2 runs, 4 RBI; Ben Kluver - 1-2, 1 run; McLaughlin - 1-2, HR, 2 BB, 2 runs, 2 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.

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