A Section 8AAA baseball tournament that started with hopes of making a third straight state tournament for Alexandria ended abruptly at St. John’s University on Wednesday afternoon.
The top-seeded Cardinals (14-5) had their ace on the mound in senior lefty Carter Stockert. Bemidji did not get to him for many runs, but the Lumberjacks (14-7) worked deep into counts. That forced Stockert from the game after four innings in a 3-2 game. Bemidji gained new life from there and won 9-3 after a six-run top of the seventh ended Alexandria’s run a game short of the section championship round.
“I’m not going to blame it all on the umpire, but I really thought of all the umpires I had, he was definitely the one who squeezed me the most,” Stockert said. “I just couldn’t find the strike zone. All season, my fastball has been my go-to pitch, and today my off-speed pitches were the pitches I was relying on. Maybe I was trying too hard or overthinking it.”
Alexandria led 2-0 through two innings. Blake Hoelscher started his two-hit day with an RBI double in the first to score Matthew Carlsen. Cody Richardson and Andrew Revering then hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the second inning to add to their early lead.
“(That) gives us some momentum,” Alexandria head coach Jake Munsch said. “Regardless if it’s our team or any other team, when we walk batters, lots of times those batters are going to score. Carter obviously did not have the game he has. He’ll be the first to admit that, but Carter’s also been a reason we had the successful season we did.”
Stockert said he felt great through two innings, but Bemidji started to chip away in the third. Three walks and a hit batter drove in a run before Stockert struck out two to leave the bases loaded. Hoelscher then hit a solo home run in the bottom of the third to make it a two-run game again at 3-1.
The Lumberjacks’ patient approach led to another run in the top of the fourth when a wild pitch made it 3-2. That came after Bemidji loaded the bases with a hit batter and a walk around a double from Casey McNamara.
Stockert left after that fourth inning with 101 pitches and two runs allowed on two hits. He struck out seven but walked five and hit two batters. The Cardinals walked nine batters in all, one intentionally late in the game.
“(Bemidji coach) Mike (Fogelson) is a good coach, and he’ll pick up on that,” Munsch said. “Bemidji was taking the first strike the entire game because we were struggling to get ahead. When they’re doing that, they’re making us work. Offensively, we left some runners on base too. It’s not all about pitching. We could have scored a few more runs.”
Carlsen had three hits, including a double, to lead Alexandria’s offense, but the Cardinals couldn’t score on Bemidji starter Steven Peterson after the third inning. Peterson went the distance and scattered eight hits, while Alexandria senior Luke Levasseur took the loss after working two-plus innings, allowing four hits, a walk and two runs.
Bemidji tied the game at 3-3 in the sixth. A leadoff walk and a passed ball led to an RBI single from Brandon Lussier. The Lumberjacks grabbed their first lead in the top of the seventh with a bases-loaded walk off reliever Tate Breitkreutz, who came in for Levasseur with runners on the corners and nobody out.
Lussier opened the game up with a two-run single in the next at-bat to make it 6-3. The Lumberjacks added three more runs behind a two-run Alexandria error and a wild pitch.
“I would say it’s fair that we went into (the tournament) a little bit too confident, especially in the second section game against Little Falls after being back-to-back champions,” Stockert said. “The goal in mind was the state tournament, but I think maybe we forgot about that it takes three games to get there, if not more. I feel we’re a really, really good team, but the past maybe got us a little too confident.”
The disappointment of falling short in the section tournament was still fresh, but both Stockert and Munsch said they were proud of another winning season. The Cardinals are 50-20 overall through the last three springs and won the Central Lakes Conference title outright this year by finishing 11-2 in league play.
“We can go home and dwell on it, but Legion starts in a couple weeks right after the state tournament,” Stockert said of looking ahead to summer ball. “Personally, after a start like that, I’m going to go and do whatever needs to be done to get back. I’m pretty sure everyone on the team feels the same. We’re looking forward to our next game together.”