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No panic after a slow start for Alex

Senior pitcher Taylor Ellingson follows through on her pitch against Willmar last Thursday night. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

The Alexandria softball team is getting some players used to new positions at the varsity level this season, and that showed in a 6-4 loss to Willmar in the season opener last Thursday night.

Alexandria committed six errors overall and four of those came in the first inning. Willmar scored four runs that frame and jumped out to a lead that it never relinquished. Alexandria rallied in the fifth, scoring three runs, but couldn’t quite recover from a slow start.

“They started off right away with a bunt and got a hit, walk, another bunt and we kind of threw the ball around a bit,” head coach Randy Albers said. “We kind of put ourselves in a tough position to get down 4-0 right away. That’s the way it goes. They did a good job of putting the ball in play and kind of caught us off our toes a little bit and put four runs across.”

Albers knew the defense might be a work in progress at the beginning of this season. The Cardinals lost some talented players from a year ago, and that has forced even players who have experience at the varsity level to take on new positions to try and get the best lineup on the field.

“Sarah [Bruzek] played third for us last year and did a great job, moves to short,” Albers said. We have a new second baseman. Basically we have a new infield other than our catcher. We have some girls trying to feel out their positions a little bit. I think they’ll be OK. They put the pressure on us mentally, and we had some girls who just weren’t used to maybe the speed of things and maybe the mental side of things, but they’ll respond. They’ll be OK.”

Alexandria had its chances to climb out of that early hole. The Cardinals got a run back in the bottom of the second after junior Carly Dropik tripled and came around to score on a sacrifice bunt. That was the beginning of a big game for Dropik as she finished with a single, two triples and two RBIs.

Her two-out, two-RBI triple in the fifth brought Alexandria to within a run at 5-4. Freshman McKenzie Revering started that rally with a double and later scored on a two-out single by Taylor Ellingson.

Dropik’s hit knocked Willmar starter Leah Ruter from the game after 4 2/3 innings and brought freshman Lexi Kopacek on in relief. Kopacek got the first batter she faced to strand the tying run in scoring position. She earned a save by allowing just two hits and striking out four the rest of the way.

Alexandria’s last good chance off her came in the sixth when junior pinch hitter Courtney Bitzan got a one-out single. Bitzan was on third with two outs when Kopacek induced a fly ball to second that stranded the tying run.

“What we really didn’t do well today is get the key hit with runners in scoring position,” Albers said. “I don’t know how many runners we left, but I think it was just about every inning.”

Willmar made Alexandria work for everything it got by committing no errors on the night. The Cardinals are also trying to feel out where they want players hitting in the lineup early on, but depth will give Alexandria some options going forward.

“There’s some question marks,” Albers said. “We’re going to tinker with the lineup a little bit just to see what the best fit is for us. We had girls that typically put the ball in play that struggled a little bit today. We’re pretty deep, so if we have girls struggling we can make some lineup changes and get some girls in there to get at-bats.”

The Cardinals should be in most games they play this season with Ellingson anchoring this pitching staff. The senior ace has been starting on varsity since her freshman season and brings back a wealth of experience. She went all seven innings against Willmar, allowing just one earned run on four hits and three walks, while striking out five.

“She’s one of the top pitchers in the conference and in the section,” Albers said. “They’re going to have very few big innings and the big innings they have typically are when we give them extra outs. But we’ve got some other girls too, two juniors in Kaila DeWanz and Bria Schueler that are ready to pitch at the varsity level, so we’re as deep as we’ve been pitching wise.”

That’s a big reason why he feels good about where this team will end up, despite a slow start in the opener.

“We told the girls, one game doesn’t make a season,” Albers said. “We’re going to be right there for the conference and we’ll be very competitive come section time. I told the girls, our goal is to give us a shot at a conference title and be real salty come section time because we’ve got a team that can make a pretty deep run in sections. Of course we have to play well and get a little luck, but we’ll be OK. The girls will respond. They’ve been in those positions before in softball and other sports.”


WILLMAR 400 100 1 – 6 4 0

ALEXANDRIA 010 030 0 – 4 9 6

PITCHING – Alexandria – Ellingson – L, 7IP, 4H, 6R, 1ER, 3BB, 5SO; Willmar – Ruter – W, 4 2/3IP, 7H, 4R, 4ER, 2BB, 3SO; Kopacek – 2 1/3IP, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 4SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING – Ellingson – 2 1B, RBI; Bruzek – 2 1B, BB; Dropik – 1B, 2 3B, 2 RBI; Bitzan – 1B; Revering – 2B

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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