Alexandria Junior Legion Red's success has this group looking like another wave of talented players for the Cardinals

The players for the Alexandria Soderholm Insurance and Oral Surgery Junior Legion Red baseball team have seen a lot of success in recent years. Now 10-4 through a doubleheader split with Bemidji, they will get a good test this summer against some older teams as these athletes try to prepare themselves for the varsity level in the coming years.

Alexandria's Kasen Muscha (left) is the first one to congratulate teammate Brady Swensrud after Swensrud scored a run in the opening game of a doubleheader against Bemidji on June 23, 2021. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The expectation of good baseball programs is that its players know the ins and outs of the game by the time they reach the varsity level.

Alexandria Cardinals coach Jake Munsch talks a lot about how much things like smart base running impacts winning. The Cardinals try to strengthen a lot of those mental and physical fundamentals during the summer season at the younger levels, and the Alexandria Soderholm Insurance and Oral Surgery Junior Legion Red players have looked like a group with a bright future through the month of June.

The Reds, which consist of players about to enter their sophomore year of high school, are 10-4 after a doubleheader split with Bemidji on June 23. Alexandria got a good start from Grayson Grove on the mound in game one in a 7-1 win. Bemidji got a good start of its own from Casey St. John in the nightcap to hand Alexandria a rare 12-0 loss.

Alexandria's Grayson Grove pitches during the second inning of game one in the Junior Legion Red's doubleheader against Bemidji on June 23, 2021. Grove got the win in game one after throwing five shutout innings as he upped his record to 5-0 so far this summer. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)


“They’re a really good team,” Grove said. “Hats off to them. All their hits found the gaps. The baseball Gods were on their side. (St. John) had a great fastball, so I was always on my toes for that. Then he could mix it up with off-speed.”

It was a game where nothing really went right for Alexandria. Four pitchers issued eight walks and 15 Bemidji hits, while the Reds countered with just four hits of their own.

Alexandria came into the night with a team ERA of 2.54. That was upped to 3.47 -- still good collectively for a team that before that second game had not lost a contest by a margin of more than two runs this summer.

Alexandria's Cameron Simon places the tag on a Bemidji runner at second base during the Alexandria Junior Legion Red's doubleheader on June 23, 2021. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Grove is the team leader in innings pitched with 20.1. He threw 4 1/3 shutout frames against Bemidji to lower his ERA to 2.07 with 21 strikeouts and now a 5-0 record. Caleb Gimbel also threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Grove has issued 12 walks, but five of those came against Bemidji in a game where he did not quite have pinpoint control.

“I love my fastball,” Grove, a hard-throwing righthander, said. “I think it’s pretty good, and then I can switch to a knuckleball or a curveball. Those are my two go-to pitches on 0-2 or when I’m up in the count.”


"It’s coming up fast. We’re a really competitive group of guys, so I think that’s everybody’s goal."

- Grayson Grove on the goal of being contributors to the varsity team in the near future

Throwing a knuckleball is not very common at the high school level, and Grove was just messing around with his grip in his younger years when that pitch started to develop.

“It honestly just turned into a knuckle. I don’t hold it like most people do,” Grove said. “I hold it two fingers straight out and then I just let it go with all fingers at the same time. Sometimes it doesn’t do what I want it to do, but then it moves.”

Grove said he has learned that he cannot just rely on a fastball the higher up he gets in the system. That’s what this summer is for -- working on the off-speed pitches that will help him continue his success as he gets closer to the varsity level.

Depth on the mound and offensively

This Alexandria Junior Red team has a handful of guys showing good things on the mound. Brady Swensrud (3.18 ERA, 17 SO, 11 IP), Cameron Mercado (1.56 ERA, 11 SO, 9 IP), Cameron Simon (2.63 ERA, 7 SO, 8 IP), and Carter Simonson (2.21 ERA, 20 SO, 12.2 IP) join Grove with sub-3.50 ERAs and the ability to overpower some opponents with strikeouts.

Alexandria's Cameron Simon pitches for the Junior Legion Red during game two of a doubleheader against Bemidji on June 23, 2021. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“We got some pretty strong pitching,” Alexandria coach Steve Radtke said. “Lately we’ve been making some errors in the field, but coming into this from the school season we had reports that they’re just a great fielding team that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. We’ve made a few here, but I think we’ll see they are a pretty good fielding team once we get going.”


Alexandria has been equally as impressive offensively where this team is hitting .353 as a group with a .466 on-base percentage. Nine different players are hitting at least .300. Brady Swensrud (.600 AVG, 35 at-bats), Ben Scott (.444, 18 ABs), Mercado (.462, 13 ABs) and Cameron Simon (.400, 35 ABs) are all hitting .400 or above.

Jordan Kuhnau (.382 AVG) has been clutch with runners on base. He has a team-leading 20 RBIs that has been aided by two home runs, two doubles and a triple among his 13 hits. The next closest RBI leader is Carter Simonson with nine.

Alexandria's Carter Simonson jumps out of the box to try to leg out a single against Bemidji on June 23, 2021. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“We got some kids who can really hit,” Radtke said. “Jordan Kuhnau has some serious power. He’s got two grand slams. One inside the park and one outside the park. Sawyor Ruhmor has a grand slam. We got some kids who can hit the ball, and I think we’re pretty deep.”

Taking it to the next level

Deep and talented has been the story of this group coming through Alexandria’s youth system. These guys have won at summer state tournament levels, and are coming off a school season where they won more than 20 games.

“This is a good step up in competition for them,” Radtke said. “The first weekend up in Fargo we played a 15-year-old tournament, and we pretty much handled that. We won three games by the (10-run) rule, and one we won 7-2. Now stepping up and playing older kids is challenging this group a little bit. We’re going to have some ups and downs, but they’ve mostly been ups so far.”


Alexandria's Cameron Simon throws to first base for an out against Bemidji on June 23, 2021. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Radtke is sharing the coaching duties for this team with varsity assistant coach Greg Toivonen. Radtke said that has been a big help as they try to give these guys every opportunity to be ready for the varsity level whenever that may come.

“I’m extremely excited. It’s closer than it seems,” Grove said of the prospects of being the primary contributors on varsity in the near future. “It’s coming up fast. We’re a really competitive group of guys, so I think that’s everybody’s goal.”

The Cardinals have a program that consistently puts themselves in position to be contenders. The future looks to be in good hands with another wave of talented players coming through.

“We’ve had a successful program in Alexandria here for quite a while. It’s just another team that we’re expecting to do well,” Radtke said. “I had the group a few years ago with Matthew Carlsen and those guys. These guys are doing similar things to that group as far as the tournaments we’ve been in so far.”

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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