It’s looking more and more like the Alexandria baseball team will certainly be tested against some of the best teams in the state before the Section 8-3A playoffs this spring.
They certainly saw one of the best on Thursday in a 4-0 loss to Sartell-St. Stephen (7-0).
“Sartell is a heck of a ballclub. They do a lot of things right,” Alexandria coach Jake Munsch said. “Their pitcher (Tyler Phelps-Hemmesch) was very good. Up and down the lineup, they hit the ball well. We got beat tonight. We didn’t lose the game. We played very well. We pitched well, played well defensively and had good at-bats. It didn’t go our way, but we got better tonight. That’s our ultimate goal each game.”
The Minnesota Baseball Coaches Association put out its Class 3A rankings on April 29 and had three regulars on the Cardinals’ schedule in the top five. Willmar is ranked No. 2, with Bemidji (No. 3) and Sartell-St. Stephen (No. 4) right behind. Those three were a combined 17-0 entering Thursday night, and the Cardinals (5-3) will see them five times during the regular season.
“When we play teams like this, we know what we’re going to have to get through at the end,” Munsch said. “The CLC and our section are extremely difficult. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night. Sartell beat Fergus Falls (1-4) in extra innings last night. You can never take a night off, and that’s what makes it fun too.”
Sartell beat the Cardinals 12-2 in the season opener in a game where Munsch said Alexandria did not play well. It was different in the rematch.
Sartell got to Alexandria starter Will Suchy in the first inning by scoring two runs on a single, a hit batter and three walks. Blake Haus and Steven Brinkerhoff both drove in runs with walks.
Suchy settled in from there and gave Alexandria a chance by going five innings and allowing four total runs on five hits.
Suchy struck out seven against a team averaging 10.5 runs per game. Parker Jendro threw two scoreless innings to finish the game and struck out three.
“Will pitched phenomenal tonight,” Munsch said. “For his first start of the year, you wonder how many pitches he’d be able to go. He did a good job, and we went right to Jendro who has thrown well for us. He did great too.”
The Cardinals’ best chance to break through offensively against Phelps-Hemmesch came in the bottom of the fifth inning. Devin Cimbura, Dayton Downing and JD Hennen all singled to start the frame. Phelps-Hemmesch beared down and struck out the next three batters he faced to preserve the 4-0 lead.
“Just calm down, throw strikes and get yourself out of it,” he said of his mindset with the bases loaded. “Don’t think too much, don’t throw too hard and it will all work out.”
Phelps-Hemmesch got Alexandria hitters to chase a couple of high pitches in those final at-bats of the fifth. He went six shutout innings, striking out seven and allowing four hits before Brinkerhoff pitched a perfect final inning to secure the win.
“We played them earlier this season, and Chase (Heying) threw a good game. I just kind of followed his game plan,” Phelps-Hemmesch said. “I went at hitters I could attack. Catcher (Jack Greenlun) called a good game...We have a deep team. This is one of the better teams that I’ve seen play at the varsity level in general, and it’s just fun seeing everyone play together.”
Munsch said Phelps-Hemmesch threw harder than any pitcher the Cardinals have seen so far this season. Shay Endres had Alexandria’s first hit in the second inning, and Alexandria hitters hit the ball hard and fouled off tough pitches on other occasions.
“We had really, really quality at-bats,” Munsch said. “Their defense made a bunch of really nice plays. It was just a good baseball game all around.”
Sartell looks like a team that can compete with any other program at the Class 3A level this year, and the Cardinals had their chances Thursday. They will carry a lot of positives with them into a game against Class 4A Moorhead (2-6) on Friday at 7 p.m.
“There are no negatives from this game,” Munsch said. “They played really well. We’re excited to flip the page and tee it right back up tomorrow night.”
SARTELL-ST. STEPHEN 210 010 0 - 4 9 0
ALEXANDRIA 000 000 0 - 0 4 1