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A Central Lakes title for the taking

Alexandria’s Zach Peterson (right) gets congratulated by teammate Mitch Thompson after Peterson scored the first run of the game against Willmar last Friday night at Knute Nelson Memorial Ballpark. Alexandria went on to win 7-4 to stay unbeaten in the Central Lakes Conference. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

The Alexandria baseball players knew they had this in them even if others around the area might have taken a wait-and-see approach.

Alexandria lost some talented players last year, but the Cardinals have restocked with players who have accepted a more prominent role on varsity and some returning starters who have this team in the driver’s seat for another Central Lakes Conference title.

“We expected to have a good pitching staff and when you can pitch well, you’re going to be in every game,” head coach Russ Hinrichs said after a 7-4 win over Willmar last Friday. “I think we’ve found an outfield now that works. We had to replace some seniors, no doubt, but once we found a way to manufacture our pitching staff and know how the order is going to be, I think all of us as coaches were excited for this season.”

The Cardinals kept it rolling with three games in less than 24 hours this past weekend as they split with Moorhead on Saturday after beating Willmar on Friday. The Spuds had no answer for a hot Alexandria line-up in game two, which ended 14-0 after Moorhead won 5-3 in the opener.

Blake Stockert is known for his ability on the mound, but he dominated at the plate in the nightcap. The senior went 3-for-3 with two home runs, six RBIs and three runs scored. His grand slam early set the tone for Alexandria to go home with a split.

This is an offense that knows it doesn’t have to put up those kinds of numbers every night in order to get a win. Alexandria’s pitching staff continued its stellar ways through much of the weekend with Dan Kuhn finishing things off in a five-inning win on Saturday. He allowed just two hits and a walk, while striking out three in the win over the Spuds.

Parker Bowden had his roughest start of the season by allowing five runs on eight hits and three walks in the opener against Moorhead, but Chris Leary kept the team in the game with 2 2/3 innings of shutout relief.

That came after Jake Booth didn’t allow an earned run over 5 2/3 innings against Willmar the night before. He struck out eight to get the win as Alexandria rallied from a one-run deficit in the fifth to move to 8-0 in the CLC.

“Our pitching has carried us all year,” senior first baseman Toby Helgeson said. “We know if we put a couple runs on the board, we’re probably going to get the win because our pitching has been able to shut down every other team.”

Booth called it the deepest staff he’s ever been a part of, and it gives this team confidence every time out.

“I think we can pitch every day and be competitive,” Booth said. “We’ll just take it one game at a time. Brainerd (7-2 CLC) is a big opponent so we want to play them and win against them, but we’re just taking it one game at a time.”

The Cardinals were scheduled to play Brainerd last Thursday before rain put an end to those plans. The Warriors are not on the schedule now until May 21, and a lot can change during the course of a week with so many games packed into a short period of time.

That’s why every game matters in the CLC and why the win over Willmar was so important on Friday. Willmar came into the game with just two wins on the season but gave Alexandria a game from start to finish.

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.

Willmar answered right back after that, scoring four unearned runs in the top of the fifth. Then it was Alexandria’s turn as the Cardinals 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 taking advantage of wild pitches,” Helgeson said. “Both teams had a couple of them and that’s how a couple runs were scored. I feel like our base running has improved, and we feel like we can score on the basepaths even if we’re not getting hits. It’s nice to be able to score that way, too.”

Alexandria’s defense was pretty good too over the three games. The Cardinals committed just four errors during that stretch. With an 11-3 overall record and as the only unbeaten team left in the CLC, their goals are well within reach with a couple weeks left in the regular season.

“The biggest thing is we have to recognize that we’re going to get everyone’s best game, so we have to play our best game,” Hinrichs said. “We have to set a standard for how we want to play and a level of expectations. It’s one game at a time. Coach [Jake] Munsch said the season is short and that hourglass is slipping away, so we have to take advantage of every chance we get.”


MOORHEAD 000 00 – 0 2 2

ALEXANDRIA 518 0X – 14 12 1


ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE – Thompson – 3-3, 2B, 1 run, 2 RBI; Stockert – 3-3, 2 HR, 3 runs, 6 RBI; Hammerback – 2-2, BB, 2B, 3 runs; Revering – 1-3, 1 run, 2 RBI; Kris Setterstrom – 1-3, 1 run; Kluver – 1-2, BB, 1 run, 2 RBI; Helgeson – 0-1, 2 BB, 2 runs, RBI; Travis Krueger – 1-2, 1 run, RBI; Zach Peterson – 0-2, 1 run

MOORHEAD 000 320 0 – 5 8 0

ALEXANDRIA 000 300 0 – 3 7 1

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING – Bowden – L, 4 1/3IP, 8H, 5R, 5ER, 3BB, 2SO; Leary – 2 2/3IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 2SO

ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE – Grant Toivonen – 1-4; Krueger – 2-3, 2 RBI; Hammerback – 1-3, 2B; Revering – 1-3, 2B, 1 run; Helgeson – 1-3, 1 run; Spencer Lucas – 1-3, RBI; McLaughlin – BB, 1 run

WILLMAR 000 040 0 – 4 5 1

ALEXANDRIA 000 331 X – 7 8 2

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING – Booth – 5 2/3IP, 4H, 4R, 0ER, 3BB, 8SO; Leary – 1/3IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 1SO; Thompson – 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 2SO

ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE – Helgeson – 3-4, 2 2B, 1 run, RBI; Hammerback – 2-4, 2 runs; Revering – 1-4, 1 run; Thompson – 1-2, 1 run, 2B, RBI, BB; Peterson – 1-3, 1 run; Bowden – 0-2, BB, 1 run; Ben Kluver – 2 BB; McLaughlin – BB

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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