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Alex baseball: Cards still perfect in CLC after beating Willmar

Alexandria's Jake Booth throws a pitch during the first inning of the Cardinals' 7-4 win over Willmar on Friday night. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

The Alexandria baseball team is still unbeaten in the Central Lakes Conference at 8-0 after sweeping the season series with a 2-10 Willmar team in a 7-4 game under the lights at Knute Nelson Ballpark on Friday night.

The home Cardinals got another nice pitching performance from Jake Booth and a three-hit night from Toby Helgeson to help lead the way. Booth tossed 5 2/3 innings to get the win. His only blemish came in the fifth when Willmar scored four unearned runs on him to take a 4-3 lead. He finished with eight strikeouts and three walks.

“I felt good,” Booth said. “I was throwing strikes and trying to get the defense involved, but then later I started walking a couple more people. That’s not what I wanted to be about.”

Alexandria scored all of its runs over the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. The Cardinals took a 3-0 lead in the fourth after Mitch Thompson got an RBI double to cap off the frame. His hard-hit ball up the middle hit off the leg of Willmar starter Adam Nibaur and ricocheted all the way into right field. Nibaur stayed on his feet but had to be taken out of the game after suffering the injury.

Booth’s offense then made sure that Willmar's lead was short-lived in the fifth. Alexandria bounced back and scored three runs in the bottom half of the inning to take a 6-4 lead that it never relinquished. Casey Hammerback and Helgeson both singled in the inning, while Parker Revering reached on a walk. All three of them came around to score on wild pitches.

“We were just going out there trying to swing the bats and see the ball well,” Helgeson said. “We’re a resilient team, so we weren’t down [after falling behind]. We never get down. We just thought we’re going to swing the bats well, get some hits and string some runs together.”

Helgeson finished with two doubles, including one that drove in Hammerback in the sixth inning to give his team some insurance. It was a welcome run after Willmar had threatened to retake the lead in the top of the sixth inning with the bases loaded.

Booth started that inning and got two of the first three batters he faced before Willmar’s ninth-place batter Bryce Bromen drew a walk that put two men on. That knocked Booth out of the game and brought Chris Leary on in relief. Leary walked the first batter he faced but settled down and got Brett Swanson swinging to end the threat.

“That was a big out by Leary,” head coach Russ Hinrichs said. “He needed to get us out of that inning and once Mitch [Thompson] got up, we were going to put him in the game at that point [in the seventh]. That’s a big win for us to get to 8-0 in the conference with a doubleheader tomorrow.”

Thompson has moved into the closer role for this team with the departure of Nick Knoblach to graduation last year. Thompson had no problems closing the door on Willmar in the seventh, striking out two of the four batters he faced to finish off a game where he also had a walk, an RBI double and a run scored.

“Nick was our closer last year and Mitch has done a great job of that this year,” Hinrichs said. “He comes in and throws hard. The biggest thing for him is going from catcher to pitcher. We usually don’t want to make that move within an inning. We’d like to start fresh. Our starters have been fantastic and we’ll need a couple more good starts tomorrow from Parker [Bowden] and Dan [Kuhn]. Then our guys out of the bullpen have been great too.”

Alexandria will stay busy this weekend with two more games on Saturday when the Cardinals host Moorhead for a doubleheader that starts at 10 a.m. It’s a chance to improve on an already strong season for a team that is living up to the standards it set for itself after sharing the CLC title a year ago.

“It feels good,” Booth said. “We had high expectations going into the season with everything. We didn’t feel like losing those players [to graduation] was going to hurt us. We felt like we could come out strong.”

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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