The Alexandria and Sartell-St. Stephen baseball teams entered Tuesday night’s Section 8-3A first round contest with an abundance of parallels between the two programs.
Both clubs sat at .500 when the evening began, having split in their conference doubleheader back on April 19.
Alexandria fought back from a 5-3 deficit with a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh to force extras, but the fifth-seeded Sabres (11-10) pushed three across to tip off the eighth to hold on for an 8-5 victory at Knute Nelson Ballpark.
The fourth-seeded Cardinals (10-11) move to the bottom half of the bracket to face eighth-seeded Fergus Falls at home on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
“We battled back when we were down. We really couldn’t get anything going all day, but stringed some things together to tie the game and felt pretty good about it going into the [eighth],” Alexandria head coach Jake Munsch explained. “To give up two runs right away – that’s tough.”
After a leadoff walk to Brock Anderson to kick off the seventh-inning rally, Brayden Amundson lined a one-out RBI double to draw within one at 5-4.
Fellow senior Noah Hittle followed suit by driving home Amundson on his third hit of the night to tie the game in the ensuing at-bat.
Amundson came within 90 feet of the winning run, but was stranded after a grounder and a strikeout ended the frame.
“We had it all set up perfectly. We had a couple guys come in clutch in the [seventh] inning and we had it all set up to win, but unfortunately it didn’t swing our way,” Amundson said. “We knew we had another inning to come back and win, but they put a couple runs on us and we couldn’t come back.”
The senior centerfielder added a solo shot to center in the fifth to pull within two runs at 5-3, while senior second baseman Sam Helgeson launched a two-run blast in the bottom of the second on starter Matt Rickers.
“I was taking pitches at that point and he threw me a curveball first pitch and I just kind of looked it off,” Amundson explained on his at-bat in the fifth. “I knew that since that curve was a ball, I knew that he’d probably be coming back with a strike, so I prepared for it. It was right in my zone and I put a good swing on it and she went out of the park.”
Sartell’s eighth-inning offense wasted little time pushing back in front.
Justin Hammerel singled to lead off and Brandan Walz bunted his way on to put a pair of runners on with no outs on reliever Brady Burgau.
Brandon Kramer provided a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners into scoring position, before Jonah Nebosis laced a two-run single.
The senior shortstop finished the night 3-for-5 in the leadoff spot with three RBIs and a pair of runs.
“Even with Hunter [Schoenrock], they put the bat on the ball and made us make plays,” Munsch said on the visitor’s offense. “We didn’t give up too many free bases, but for the most part they hit the ball and all we can ask those guys to do is throw strikes and I thought they did a pretty good job of that.”
Schoenrock lasted five innings in his start for the Cardinals, allowing five runs, four earned, on eight hits and a pair of walks and hit batters.
Burgau took the loss after giving up the three runs in the eighth on five hits.
Kramer entered the game out of the Sabres’ bullpen with one out in the seventh and Amundson on second. The junior gave up the tying run, but allowed only one hit in the bottom of the eighth to pick up the win.
“It’s definitely tough,” Amundson said. “Baseball is a tough game and we made just a couple errors and right when those errors happened, they capitalized and scored a couple runs on us.”
The Sabres scored twice in the fifth, aided with a dropped fly ball by Amundson hit deep to the warning track by Chris Belling to score Andrew Grant after a one-out walk.
Both teams demonstrated they were evenly matched.
The details were the difference.
“There were a lot of highs and lows in this game,” Munsch said. “Sartell did a lot of things right and capitalized on a couple of our dropped fly balls and scored some runs and that’s the difference in the game. When you play section baseball, those can’t happen, because they’re going to score runs on you.”
Amundson answered at the plate with his solo shot in the bottom of the frame.
“Obviously he made a big mistake, but you can’t concentrate on those things, because your team is relying on you when you go up to the plate,” Munsch added. “He did a good job of that.”
While Alexandria now faces an uphill climb with no more playoff losses to spare, the clichéd one game at a time approach rings true and applicable.
“It might be a long journey, but if we think of it as a long journey, it’s going to be a lot harder than it is,” Amundson said. “If we think of it as one game at a time, the journey will be a lot easier and hopefully we can make it back to the top.”
The Cardinals closed the regular season with a four-game winning streak.
While Tuesday’s first-round loss certainly makes advancing challenging, Wednesday’s game with Fergus Falls will be the first step forward.
“If you look at how far you have to go, it’s going to make it seem pretty hard, but if you concentrate on one game at a time and take care of the things that you need to take care of, you’ll be all right,” Munsch said. “We’ve just got to take one game at a time and hopefully we string some wins together.”
SARTELL 120 020 03 – 8 13 1
ALEX 020 010 20 – 5 9 2
PITCHING – ALEXANDRIA – Schoenrock – 5IP, 8H, 5R, 4ER, 2BB, 2HB, 3SO; Burgau – L, 3IP, 5H, 3R, 3ER, BB, SO; SARTELL – Rickers – 6.1IP, 7H, 5R, 4ER, 3BB, 3SO; Kramer – W, 1.2IP, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, SO
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE – Anderson – 0-4, 1 run, BB; Wyatt Wittenburg – 0-4; Amundson – 2-4, 2 runs, 2 RBI, HR, 2B; Hittle – 3-4, 1 run, RBI, 2 2B; Henry Wirtjes – 1-4; Helgeson – 1-4, 1 run, 2 RBI, HR; Schoenrock – 0-2; Burgau – 0-2; Jack Steffl – 0-2, 2 BB; Conner Hammerback – 2-4
SARTELL OFFENSE – Nebosis – 3-5, 2 runs, 3 RBI; Braeden Dykhuizen – 1-4, BB; Kennan Lund – 1-5; Grant – 1-2, 1 run, RBI, 2 BB, HBP; Belling – 1-5, 1 run; Roelofs – 2-4, 1 run, 2 RBI; Hammerel – 3-4, 2 runs; Walz – 1-3, 1 run; Kramer – 0-1, RBI, HBP; Peter Schumer – 0-1