The Alexandria baseball coaches talked with their players in the post-game huddle in left field for an extended time after an 8-7 loss to Rocori that ended the Cardinals’ season.
Alexandria had chances to win both of its games in the Section 8-3A tournament in St. Cloud on Tuesday. Instead, top-seeded Sartell-St. Stephen won 6-2 in the first game at Faber Field. Rocori (15-9) then beat Bemidji in a 2-0 final to advance to face the Cardinals.
Alexandria led 7-2 in the elimination game, but the Spartans kept chipping away, eventually scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to win by one run and advance to Thursday’s championship round. Rocori needs to beat Sartell twice to win the 8-3A title, while the Sabres need just one win after advancing through the winner’s bracket.
“There’s only one team in the state who doesn’t have to have that conversation,” Alexandria head coach Jake Munsch said of talking to his players after the loss. “I’ve been a part of a lot of them as a coach and a player, and it’s just too bad. I can’t think of a more selfless group of individuals who cared for each other and picked each other up when things weren’t going good.
“There were a lot of things that we did well and these kids have qualities that are going to take them so much further than the silly game of baseball will. We are blessed as coaches to be able to have kids like that. The parents should be proud and the community should be proud.”
Trailing 7-6 in the sixth, Rocori pushed two runs across to take the game. A one-out Alexandria error on a throw from third base put a runner on first. Brady Linn hammered a run-scoring triple to tie the game. Tanner Rausch then hit a sacrifice fly to score Linn for the winning run.
It was part of a big effort from Linn. The senior came in to pitch for starter Cole Fuchs with one out in a 5-2 game in the second inning. Linn, a left-hander, got out of the inning within striking distance at 7-2. He then threw five more shutout frames.
“It definitely changed the game plan. Their first pitcher, we picked up on the way he goes home and we could steal on him left and right,” Munsch said. “We were very aggressive early, and that helped us put some runs on the board, but (Linn) came in and shut the door on us. A left handed pitcher stifles our base running a little bit. He did a good job.”
Alexandria batted around in the second inning and scored six runs. Nate Hammerback started it with a leadoff double. Brady McCoy and Elijah Holthaus had run-scoring singles, and Brock Lerfald hammered a two-run double. JD Hennen also had a first-inning, run-scoring single as the Cardinals recorded eight hits in the first two frames.
"I would say we exceeded expectations. Not my expectations, but the expectations of what people thought our team was going to be about. We knew what we needed to do well in order to win. We focused on those things, and we did really well."
- Jake Munsch, Alexandria head coach
The Spartans immediately answered back with three runs in their half of the second inning to make it a 7-5 game. Jack Spanier drove in a run with a single, but Rocori also got a run on a balk against Will Suchy and also on a strikeout. The Spartans’ runner broke from third when Cardinals’ catcher Lake Hagen had to throw to first to record the out.
Both teams battled playing 14 innings with temperatures in the 90s. There were a few strange happenings in the game, including three times Alexandria reaching first base on strikeouts after the ball hit the dirt and got away from the catcher.
“You could tell with our guys throughout this game that the heat was getting to us, but the conditions are the same for both,” Munsch said. “Everyone is grinding through it. Rocori did a good job with it. We did a good job with it. They just put up a couple runs at the end that got them over the edge.”
Suchy started on the mound for Alexandria. The junior had lasted just an inning against this same Rocori team on June 3 in a 6-3 Cardinals win. Suchy went 2 1/3 innings in Tuesday’s rematch before Parker Jendro came in with Alexandria still up by two runs.
“I was super anxious,” Suchy said after what was his first section-tournament experience this year. “I just wanted to get up there and throw against the same team. I felt comfortable. Just something about the playoffs is a little different…(Rocori) just sticks in there, and it gets really annoying. It gets in your head after a while, and when you’re struggling with your control sometimes it just slips from you. They kept fouling pitches off and if you put it in the zone, they’ll put a barrel on it.”
Sartell did its damage with four runs in the first inning against Alexandria in the early game. Alexandria starting pitcher Shay Endres settled in after that. Endres went four innings and allowed four hits and three walks. He struck out four and posted three straight scoreless frames after the first inning to allow his team to climb back to within 4-2.
Hennen singled to lead off the top of the fourth inning against the Sabres (20-3). Grady Anderson doubled him in with two outs, and Anderson scored when a ground ball off the bat of Hagen went for an error at shortstop.
“We’ve said from the beginning of the year that they are a good team, but I would have really liked an opportunity to play them again,” Munsch said of Sartell. “That’s what it’s about. We don’t play baseball to have easy games. It builds character and resilience, all the things this game is supposed to teach kids when they move on. The conference was difficult, the section was difficult. We were very fortunate to be a part of it.”
Munsch saw a lot of character from his guys all season. This is a group that was 5-7 at one point before going 9-3 the rest of the way.
“I would say we exceeded expectations. Not my expectations, but the expectations of what people thought our team was going to be about,” Munsch said. “We knew what we needed to do well in order to win. We focused on those things, and we did really well. We couldn’t be more proud of the way we ran the second half of our season.”
Alexandria has six seniors on the roster in Connor Lerfald, Connor Cavers, Brady McCoy, Devan Swerman, Elijah Holthaus and Shay Endres. Swerman, Holthaus and Swerman were all regulars in the lineup, and McCoy also played in 14 games.
The rest of the lineup around them featured a lot of juniors who gained valuable experience in big games as Alexandria finished 14-10 overall. It’s a hungry group that will play plenty more baseball this summer and try to put itself in position for another run next spring.
“In the beginning it was all completely new,” Suchy said. “We didn’t have (last year’s season). Next year, I just think we’re going to come back a lot stronger. We got a lot of people experience. We had three very strong seniors who held us together. Now all of us as a whole who have played together since we were 10, 11, next year we should have a good run at it.”