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Alexandria splits CLC title with Brainerd

Grant Toivonen (left) looks at the safe call by the umpire after he could not make the tag in time on Logan Madsen’s stolen base for Brainerd. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

A two-out rally by Brainerd in the seventh inning spoiled the Alexandria baseball team’s hopes of finishing alone in first place in the Central Lakes Conference this season.

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Instead, the Cardinals and the Warriors are the CLC co-champions with 12-2 records after Brainerd defeated Alexandria 4-2 on Wednesday afternoon at Knute Nelson Ballpark.

Starting pitcher Dan Kuhn went five innings and allowed only two runs, managing to spread six Warriors hits and four walks. Although he was unable to pick up the win in the game, Kuhn felt he was able to mix his pitches up enough to keep the Warriors batters from taking command.

“I felt I was able to keep them under control,” Kuhn said. “They got a few big hits but not as many as they like to.”

The Cardinals were held hitless by Brainerd starting pitcher Tom Graumann until the fifth inning. That is when they managed to tie the game 2-2 as Grant Toivonen singled home Zach Peterson and Casey Hammerback.

Toivonen said the Cardinals needed a few innings to get comfortable with Graumann’s pitching, and the fifth was when they started to figure it out.

“We couldn’t really hit the guy all game, he’s a pretty good pitcher,” Toivonen said. “That inning we kind of had it.”

But a lost pop-up ended up costing the Cardinals as Brainerd took a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. Relief pitcher Blake Stockert managed to pick up two quick outs before a Drew Sannes single kept the inning alive. That is when an infield pop-up off the bat of Nate DeChaine was lost in the sun by the Cardinals infielders, putting runners on first and third.

Following a DeChaine stolen base, Logan McElfresh singled home the pair of runners for a 4-2 Brainerd lead.

Toivonen, the Cardinals’ second baseman, said they are focused on cleaning those things up in the future as a missed play could end their season in the section tournament.

“I wish we could have it back,” he said. “We probably would have caught it and we would still be playing right now.”

Singles by Parker Bowden and Peterson in the bottom of the seventh inning put runners on with two outs, but from there Brainerd managed to pitch out of the jam and end the game.

Head coach Russ Hinrichs said the dropped pop-up in the seventh inning was one of those quick plays in baseball that unfortunately can change the outcome.

“It’s just those little things that we have to try to clean up,” Hinrichs said. “We can’t get into a close game, and at the end of the game that just can’t happen. We’ve got to be able to make that play.”

Hinrichs said the Cardinals decided to go with Kuhn as the starting pitcher as Stockert has been feeling under the weather over the past few days. Stockert did feel well enough to start the game as the designated hitter and later pitch two innings in relief. The team is confident that Stockert will be ready as the starting pitcher Monday for the beginning of the section tournament.

Hinrichs was also happy with Kuhn’s pitching, and said the difference in the game was a few missed plays and a slow start for the Cardinals offense.

“We decided to go with Dan, and he did a great job,” Hinrichs said. “Dan has done a great job for us all year as a junior and he’s got a bright future in our program.

“The bottom line is we have to do a better job at the plate and obviously we have to make plays in the field.”

This is the second straight season in which the Cardinals were co-champions of the CLC after tying with Rocori in 2013. In that season both Rocori and Alexandria finished with 11-3 records in the conference.

Both Alexandria and Brainerd finished at 12-2 this year, well ahead of third place St. Cloud Tech at 8-5.

With the regular season schedule completed, the Cardinals will now look ahead to the start of the Section 8AAA Tournament on Monday.

Hinrichs did not know where the Cardinals would be seeded, but he figured their record was good enough to earn a home game at the start of the tournament. He likes the chances for the Cardinals to make a run in the tournament as long as they hit well and make smart plays on defense.

“I think we’re a good club, we’ve got a lot of ability,” Hinrichs said. “It’s going to be a game just like that today. It’s going to be a close game, down the stretch. We’re going to have to make little plays in the field and get a big hit.”


BRAINERD 100 0 1 0 2 – 4 9 0

ALEXANDRIA 000 020 0 – 2 5 0

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING – Dan Kuhn – 5IP, 2R, 2ER, 5SO, 4BB; Blake Stockert – L, 2IP, 2R, 2ER, 3SO, 0BB

BRAINERD PITCHING – Tom Graumann – W, 6IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER, 5SO, 3BB; Tory Miller – 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 2SO

ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE – Grant Toivonen – 1-4, 2 RBIs; Toby Helgeson – 0-3; Parker Revering – 0-2, BB; Mitch Thompson – 1-3; Blake Stockert – 0-3; Parker Bowden – 1-3; Zach Peterson – 1-1, 2 BB; 1 run; Casey Hammerback – 1-3, run; Travis Krueger – 0-2, SAC

BRAINERD OFFENSE – Tory Miller – 1-4, run; Drew Sannes – 2-3, 2 runs, BB; Nate DeChaine – 2-3, 1 RBI, 1 run, BB; Logan McElfresh – 3-4, 3 RBIs

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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