Eric Morken is the sports editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
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Alexandria head baseball coach Russ Hinrichs looked up at the scoreboard after a 14-1 loss to Bemidji on Tuesday night and one thing stood out - 18 hits for the Lumberjacks, three for the Cardinals. "The stats don't lie, there," Hinrichs said. Bemidji exploded in a must-win game for Bemidji to force a winner-takes all rematch on Wednesday for the Section 8AAA title. Alexandria took a 1-0 lead on an RBI ground out by Jordan Domine in the second, but it was all Lumberjacks after that as they avenged three earlier losses to Alexandria this season.
The Alexandria Beetles had to make due with a roster that included just 14 players and six position players on opening night last Wednesday. Such is life at the start of every Northwoods League season as players trickle in from their respective schools around the country. Alexandria managed to win that opening game in Brainerd and finished its first five games with a 2-3 record after Sunday's 6-5 loss to Thunder Bay. The Beetles have shown a propensity of battling back through the first week.
The scene was much different last Thursday night than it was only a week earlier for the Osakis softball team. The Silverstreaks wrapped up the Section 5A West title on May 26 with little fanfare in Glenwood. They accepted their trophy and posed for pictures with a smile before casually coming off the field to talk to friends and family. A subsection trophy was not what they set out for this season. The scene was different when the Silverstreaks accomplished their ultimate goal of taking home the section title one week later.
Is it too late to ask for a do over? Two months ago, I wrote about all the reasons to be optimistic about the 2011 Twins team. Their lineup would be one of the best in the American League, their starting rotation would be good enough in a weak Central Division and their bullpen could be pieced together to form something adequate. I even went so far as to predict 90-95 wins for this team. I guess they could still go 73-36 over the final two thirds of the season. How could anyone have seen this coming? The Twins' 17-36 record as of Wednesday was the worst in baseball by four games.
The Cardinal baseball team got a good indication of how good it can be when it doesn't beat itself in the opening round of the Section 8AAA tournament on Monday. Alexandria has shown flashes all season but errors in the field have made it difficult to put together consistent stretches of solid play. The Cardinals had just one fielding miscue in what head coach Russ Hinrichs called their best defensive game of the season against Sartell-St. Stephen on Monday.
The Osakis softball team decided it was sick of all the late-inning suspense that had highlighted its previous two games in the Section 5A West tournament. The Silverstreaks took care of things a lot earlier in the championship last Thursday as their bats broke out in a 16-3, five-inning win over Upsala that earned them a second straight 5A West title. Osakis trailed 2-1 after an inning and a half before putting six on the board in the bottom of the second. The Silverstreaks never looked back from there. "We actually got the bats going tonight," head coach John Stigman said.
The uncertainty that comes with the start of every Northwoods League baseball season was present again when the Alexandria Beetles got together for their first practice of the summer on Monday night. A total of 14 players met at Knute Nelson Memorial Field to take batting and fielding practice, warm up their arms and start the process of getting to know each other. Almost 20 players are expected to be in uniform when the Beetles open up the 2011 season in Brainerd tonight, Wednesday, before returning home on Thursday for six straight home games.
Things looked good for the Alexandria softball team through three innings in the opening round of the Section 8AAA tournament on Wednesday. The Cardinals got RBI doubles from Jess Syvrud and Danielle Carlson on their way to an early 4-1 lead. Big Lake responded by scoring 13 runs over the final four innings. That proved to be too much to overcome as the Hornets ended Alexandria's season early in a 14-8 game. "We as coaches and players thought that we could play with this team and we could beat this team," Cardinals head coach Bob Cunniff said.
The playoffs are always about finding a way to win and advance for every top seed in a tournament. The Osakis softball team found a way to do that with two close wins in the opening rounds of the Section 5A West playoffs. The Silverstreaks watched a 5-1 lead disappear against Eden Valley-Watkins on Tuesday before winning 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh. That came a day after a 3-0 win over Belrade-Brooten-Elrosa.
West Central Area baseball coach Jacob Munsch knows how much his team needed a win like it got on Tuesday night. The Knights went into the bottom of the seventh trailing by two runs against Ashby. They left the field with their second win of the season after taking advantage of two walks and a hit batsman to walk-off with a 9-8 win that snapped a seven-game losing streak. "They're used to losing and they got to get over that," Munsch said.