Black Sox one win away from state
The Alexandria Black Sox are a win away from a goal they set out to accomplish four years ago when the program joined the Resorters Baseball League.
The Black Sox will play for a spot at the state tournament on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Ashby when they take on the winner of Long Prairie and Pelican Rapids. That game is set for Friday night. Alexandria has already beaten Pelican Rapids in the Region 16C Tournament and split with Long Prairie during the regular season.
"That would mean the world," Black Sox coach Alex Harste said of making a state tournament. "This group of guys is a tight-knit group of guys. We are a bunch of brothers. Outside of baseball, this is who we hang out with. We've worked up until now to get us to the team we need. We've worked together and now we finally have everyone here and this is our year to make the run. We believe that, and we've believed that since the season started."
Alexandria heads into Saturday with an 10-4 overall record after going 8-3 through the regular season. The Black Sox, consisting of many former Alexandria Cardinals, beat Pelican Rapids to open the Region 16C Tournament. They followed that up with a 1-0 win over Osakis last weekend before falling in a 7-1 game to Fergus Falls. The Hurricanes punched their ticket to the 16C championship game and the state tournament with that win.
"Pitching and key defensive plays," Harste said of what has driven Alexandria's run so far. "Scoring when the other team makes errors, capitalizing on their mistakes has gotten us to this point. Then minimizing our mistakes in the field has been a big key for us. Having batters step up and come through when we need them."
Alexandria's Mitch Thompson has been a big part of that. Harste said he has driven in four of the team's six runs in the last three games. He's also been instrumental on the mound.
Thompson went all nine innings against Osakis in a 16-strikeout gem. That was after striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings against Pelican Rapids earlier in the tournament. Blake Stockert worked the final 2 2/3 innings of that one, striking out five.
"In Osakis, I think Mitch just carried over from the weekend before what he had going," Harste said. "Batters just couldn't catch up to him and his breaking ball was working when he needed it as a strikeout pitch."
The Black Sox have also gotten some timely hitting when they needed it throughout the postseason. Harste lauded Thompson for many of those hits and said Toby Helgeson has also stepped up in some big moments at the plate.
"Having Chris Curry back in the lineup has helped too," he said. "He was out probably for the last six weeks with a bum knee. He gave us a solid six innings against Fergus. They just hit the ball well in the seventh. There's not much you can do about that."
Harste took some of the blame himself in that Fergus Falls loss for a couple of runs that the team didn't score early in the game. Thompson had a run-scoring double in the second inning, but Curry also got caught up in a rundown between third and home that limited the damage Alexandria could have done.
"It was a little bit of a base-running error probably caused by a coaching error by me at third base," Harste said. "If we get a couple more runs there, we might be in that game a little longer and potentially win it."
The Black Sox still have their chance to end up where they want to be. Harste said Thompson will likely get the ball on the mound on Saturday against whichever team they face.
"You got to go with the hot hand," he said.
Alexandria's lineup and pitching staff did take a bit of a hit earlier in the playoffs when Nick Knoblach and Parker Bowden were lost for the rest of the summer with knee injuries. The Black Sox still have Curry, Shawn Krueger and Stockert to help on the mound this weekend.
"I think we're at a little bit of an advantage," Harste said. "The team we face is going to be playing a back-to-back game essentially. If I'm that team, I'm probably trying to pitch my best pitcher on Friday night. With that being said, Long Prairie and Pelican both have very good number two pitchers. We've got to be ready to hit and on top of our game."
If they are, Harste believes this group is ready to earn a state tournament berth after coming up a little short the last three years.
"We're really excited to go and capture our opportunity," he said. "All we want to do is get to state, and we've wanted that since we put the team together."