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Rising to the challenge

Senior Toby Helgeson waits for the ball as he stands at first base after a ground ball back to the pitcher on Friday night against Willmar. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

Alexandria senior Toby Helgeson already has almost as many at-bats as he did all of last season for the Cardinals baseball team, and he’s making the most of them.

Helgeson is leading Alexandria’s regular starters in hitting this season after another impressive weekend. He upped his average to .432 after going a combined 4-for-8 with two walks, two doubles, four runs and two RBIs in three games against Willmar and Moorhead.

“I’m seeing the ball well lately,” Helgeson said after going 3-for-4 with a couple doubles against Willmar last Friday. “It’s fun. I’m hitting the ball, and it’s nice to get a couple hits here and there.

Part of that is knowing exactly where he’s going to be every game. Helgeson has anchored the first-base spot this season and is one of the guys taking advantage of his expanded role on varsity on a team that is 11-3 overall and 8-0 in the Central Lakes Conference.

“I know I’m going to be at first base pretty much every night so I come prepared and come to the field and take some hacks before,” Helgeson said. “I just get ready to hit the ball.”

He has slipped right into the second spot in the lineup and given the Cardinals a high on-base percentage guy at the top of the order. Helgeson made the most of his 45 at-bats last spring on his way to hitting .311 with nine RBIs.

Through 44 at-bats already this year, he has a .528 on-base percentage and leads Alexandria in multiple categories. His 12 runs, 19 hits, six doubles and nine walks were all tops on the team as of Monday. His 10 RBIs were second on the team to only Mitch Thompson’s 13.

“He’s been fantastic,” head coach Russ Hinrichs said. “He just does such a good job in that two-hole. To me, he’s the perfect two hitter because he can always hit the ball the other way. He makes contact, doesn’t strike out, and he’s driving the ball this year, which is different. Last year, he was basically a singles hitter and this year he’s gotten a lot of doubles. As a senior, he’s just done a great job.”

Having a left-handed bat like Helgeson’s in the lineup is also an added bonus.

“No doubt,” Hinrichs said. “I think having him bat two and having Parker [Revering] and Zach [Peterson] right behind him, Toby gets on base a lot. Parker didn’t have his best night at the plate [against Willmar], but he’s been hitting the ball well for us too. Zach, I think, has kind of gone through a funk, but he’s snapping out of it now. We’re playing good at the right time.”

Helgeson is part of an offense that had 12 players hitting at least .300 in regular or limited at-bats. That, coupled with strong pitching and a solid defense, has made for another successful season so far for Alexandria.

“We’re concentrating on winning the conference right now because we are undefeated [in the CLC],” Helgeson said. We’re looking forward to playing Brainerd (10-2, 7-2 CLC), but once playoffs come around, we’ll be focused on that.”

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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