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State baseball: Cardinals dominate Cadets in state opener

Alexandria senior Connor Busse braces himself to be mobbed by his teammates after crossing home plate in a three-run second inning at Siebert Field in the Class AAA state opener against St. Thomas Academy on Thursday. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)1 / 5
Alexandria sophomore Carter Stockert throws in the first inning of the state opener against St. Thomas Academy on Thursday at Siebert Field. Stockert got the win on the mound. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)2 / 5
Alexandria's Conner Hammerback makes the force out at second base in the second inning on Thursday at Siebert Field. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)3 / 5
Alexandria senior Brady Burgau (right) celebrates with teammates (left to right) Conner Hammerback, Jake Drew and Carter Stockert after Burgau scored in the three-run second inning on Thursday. (Eric Morken | Echo Press) 4 / 5
Alexandria head coach Jake Munsch calls his team together after taking a 5-0 lead through two innings against St. Thomas Academy on Thursday. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)5 / 5

The Alexandria baseball team forgot its helmets on the bus at the start of the Class AAA opener against St. Thomas Academy on Thursday.

Call it an early learning experience after 42 years away from the state tournament. Their bats, though? Those were in fine form from the get-go as Alexandria dominated the Cadets to get the first win at the state tournament in program history.

The Cardinals were 0-4 in their prior appearances in 1972 and 1975. That was ancient history in a 7-2 win Thursday that puts them into the Class AAA semifinals against Hibbing at 2:30 p.m. on Friday back at Siebert Field.

“We came into today thinking it was just another game,” senior Connor Busse said after a three-hit day. “We didn’t get too worked up. We just played our game like we have all season, and we put all three phases together - pitching, hitting and defense, and it worked out for us.”

Sophomore pitcher Carter Stockert got things off on the right foot by striking out the side in the top of the first inning. He said he was as nervous as he’s ever been before a game when he took the mound. He harnessed that and blew guys away to set the tone for Alexandria in the first.

“I was really fortunate my coach gave me the start,” Stockert said. “I told them I wanted it, and that’s what they did. After I struck out the side, I started to feel really confident. Our hitting has been just spot on all year, so that gives me a lot of motivation to get out of innings so they can keep hitting.”

It didn’t take long for the offense to produce. In the bottom of the first, senior Conner Hammerback made it 2-0 with a two-out, two-run single up the middle after the Cardinals were in danger of stranding those runners with a couple of strikeouts.

“It was a huge hit on his part,” head coach Jake Munsch said. “At that time, St. Thomas fans were really yelling and screaming and trying to get in our heads. Conner laced a hit up the middle and kind of shut them down and gave us that relaxed feeling. Even before that, the tone setter from Carter to strike out the side. The kids really didn’t play with any nerves.”

Alexandria scored in each of the first four frames. Busse had an RBI double in the second inning. Brock Anderson followed with a two-run double, and it was 5-0.

The Cardinals put up 51 runs through four games in the section tournament, and that momentum carried right onto the University of Minnesota campus. They finished with nine hits total, including four that went for extra bases.

“They just continue to hit the ball around the park, and tonight we got the timely hit,” Munsch said. “We took advantage of some bases, laid some bunts down. All three aspects of the game, we played well tonight.”

Munsch said before the tournament that he thought this offense would score some runs, but that it would be defense and pitching that would determine how the Cardinals did at this level. Those two areas were equally as impressive as the offense on Thursday as Alexandria played error-free ball, and Stockert threw a five-inning gem.

The lefty struck out seven and scattered five hits without allowing a run before Hunter Schoenrock came on to start the sixth. Senior Jake Drew struck out the side in the seventh to end it.

“You would think he would do the opposite, being a young kid on this stage and have the nerves get him,” Munsch said of Stockert. “This was his best start all season, by far. I’m proud of him. He’s going to grow from it, and it will instill more confidence in him as a pitcher.”

Stockert has dealt with some control issues this season, especially early in the spring. He pounded the strike zone in helping Alexandria to a win over Bemidji in the section championship. He did it again against the Cadets by not allowing a walk.

“That’s the biggest thing that I stress in warmups and talk about with my pitching coach,” Stockert said. “First pitch strike is always the first thing that comes to my mind when I’m throwing. If I walk a guy, it gets in my head. If I don’t walk guys, I think I gain a lot more confidence as the game goes on.”

This is a confident team from top to bottom right now. The Cardinals have won five straight postseason games, outscoring opponents 58-20 along the way.

“They’re believing,” Munsch said. “It’s fun to watch them. They’re confident. They’re relaxed, and they’re enjoying the ride. We hope they can come in tomorrow and win another game and keep this season going.”

The Cardinals (20-5) head into Friday’s semifinals against unseeded Hibbing (18-8) after the Bluejackets pulled off the upset of second-seeded St. Cloud Tech (24-1) in the quarterfinals. After their first win at state, the Cardinals are one more win away from Target Field.

“Hibbing knocked around Tech,” Busse said. “They put up hit after hit after hit. We have to come ready to play defense. We know they’re going to hit the ball. We just have to make every play. Our pitching has to be ready too, and the hits will come.”  

ST. THOMAS ACADEMY     000 002

ALEXANDRIA                       231 10

PITCHING - Alexandria - Carter Stockert - W, 5IP, 5H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 7SO; Hunter Schoenrock - 1IP, 2H, 2R, 2ER, 1BB, 0SO; Jake Drew - 1IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 3SO; St. Thomas Academy - Tommy Doland - L, 2IP, 4H, 5R, 3ER, 2BB, 5SO; Duke Coburn - 1IP, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 0BB; Rob Stucker - 3IP, 3H, 1R, 1ER, 6BB, 3SO

ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Connor Busse - 3-4, 2B, 2 runs, RBI; Tryg Burgau - BB; Brock Anderson - 1-3, 2B, 2 BB, 1 run, 2 RBI; Blake Anderson - 0-4; Drew - 1-3, 2B, 1 run; Conner Hammerback - 1-3, BB, 2 RBI; Reed Larson - 0-4; Brady Burgau - 2-3, 3B, BB, 2 runs; Michael Kuhn - 1-2, BB, 2 RBI; Braden Reisdorf - 0-2, 2 BB, 1 run

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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