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Baseball: Alexandria Beetles topple Eau Claire Express 5-2 in yearly Northwoods League game

In the annual Northwoods League game in Alexandria, the Willmar Stingers, who were playing as the Alexandria Beetles, beat the Eau Claire Express 5-2 on Thursday.

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Will Safford, who plays collegiate baseball at Louisiana State, runs down the first base line in the Alexandria Beetles win over the Eau Claire Express on June 30, 2022. Safford scored a run in Alexandria's yearly Northwoods League game.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA - In its annual game as the Alexandria Beetles at Knute Nelson Memorial Field, the Willmar Stingers of the Northwoods League (a collegiate summer baseball league), edged out a 5-2 win of the Eau Claire Express on Thursday.

The game had been a 1-1 tie from the top of the third through the top of the fifth inning until the Beetles pushed across a run on an RBI single by Drey Dirksen (Augustana).

Eau Claire tied it once more at 2-2 with an RBI single by Jake Sapien but Alexandria responded later by scoring the final runs to win the game.

Alexandria scored in the bottom of the seventh on a Joey Walls (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) RBI single and in the bottom of the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly by Josh Fitzgerald (Dallas Baptist) and an Aidan Byrne (Minnesota State-Mankato) RBI double.

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Aidan Byrne of the Willmar Stingers, who played the Alexandria Beetles on June 30, 2022, makes a throw from his knees to first base for an out in a 5-2 win for the Beetles over the Eau Claire Express.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

“I give our guys credit; they’re a resilient group,” first year Stingers head coach Freddy Smith said. “We've been really good with, especially in the last few weeks, being able to win close games. We've also had some come-from-behind wins. We kind of show up to the field expecting to win. So there's never really a worry if we go down one or two early in the game because the guys have shown that confidence that they can get back in the game at any moment.”

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John Bezdicek (Kennesaw State) earned his second save of the season by throwing two strikeouts and causing one ground out to shortstop to seal the 5-2 win.

Tucker Novotny (Minnesota) earned the win on the mound for the Beetles, his second of the season. He pitched one and third innings and allowed no hits. Reed Smith (Louisiana Tech) started on the mound for the Beetles and struck out two batters while allowing two runs (one earned) and five hits in five and two-thirds innings pitched.

“We did a great job right off the bat,” Freddy Smith said. “He's (Reed Smith) been good for us all season, especially with his ability to pound the zone. He’s been creating challenges for hitters."

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Reed Smith pitched five and two-third inning's in the Alexandria Beetles' 5-2 win over the Eau Claire Express on June 30, 2022. This day was the one day in Northwoods League season where the Willmar Stingers play as the Beetles.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

Byrne and Walls each had two hits on the night for the Beetles.

This win counts towards Willmar’s overall record and it now improves to 18-12 while Eau Claire drops to 17-13. As of Thursday, Willmar is in second place in the Great Plain West Division and is 5.5 games back of the St. Cloud Rox (23-6), while Eau Claire is still the top team in the Great Plains East Division by a half-game over the Duluth Huskies (16-13). Willmar’s record of 18-12 is currently the fourth-best out of the 22 teams in the league.

Alexandria once had a Northwoods League team, but the team became defunct after the summer of 2015. The Alexandria Beetles were a team from 2001-2012 before the team was called the Alexandria Blue Anchors from 2013-2015.

The co-owners of the Stingers, Ryan Voz and Marc Jerzak, were a part of the Beetles organization in the early to mid-2000s. Voz was the general manager of the Beetles from 2001 to 2006 and won the league’s executive of the year award in 2002. Jerzak was initially an intern for the Beetles in their inaugural season and worked his way up in different positions in the league.

With this connection to Alexandria, Willmar has made it a point to come up to Alexandria each summer, and the organization plays a game at Knute Nelson Memorial Field for one game

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“It was electric,” Freddy Smith said about the atmosphere in the stadium on Thursday. “It was awesome. The fans brought it. It was a great atmosphere. The fans brought a lot of energy. A lot of times, when you go to a place where there used to be a ballclub, the fans know the game. They cheer at the right moments and cheer at the right things. So there wasn't just a lot of fans that don't really know baseball; there were fans that know the game, and they were behind us all day.”

The reported number of people in attendance for the game was 1,207.

Part of the reason why Willmar keeps coming to Alexandria to play as the Alexandria Beetles once a year is because they value tradition.

“I think tradition is one thing that the Northwoods League in general, and the Stingers really take pride in,” Freddy Smith said. “We're a fairly new franchise in this league and being able to come back here once a year, perform in front of fans and obviously get a win is huge. The guys relish being able to take in the moment, and luckily, we got the win, and I think it's great for the community.”

Eau Claire Express - 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 - 2 6 2 

Alexandria Beetles - 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 2 X - 5 10 2 

ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Reed Smith - 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO; Matt Wilkinson - 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO; Tucker Novotny - 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO; John Bezdicek - 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, ER, 0 BB, 3 SO

ALEXANDRIA HITTING - Brett Bateman, 1-5; Joey Wall, 2-4, RBI; Drey Dirksen, 1-4, RBI; Will Hodo, 0-4; Jakob Christian, 1-3, 2 R; Will Safford, 1-4, R; Josh Fitzgerald, 1-3, 2 RBI; Aidan Byrne, 2-4, R, RBI; Dalton Pearson, 1-4, R

Sam Stuve covers a variety of sports in the Douglas County area. He also is assigned to do some news stories as well.
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