Elijah Holthaus came out on the winning end of a tight pitcher’s duel with Detroit Lakes starter Blaine Henderson thanks to a walk-off single by JD Hennen to lead Alexandria Zimny Insurance American Legion Post 87 to a 2-1 victory over Post 15 in the opening round of the Sub-State 14 Legion playoffs at DeLagoon Park in Fergus Falls Wednesday, July 21.

“We stress to our players that your last at-bat is your most important at-bat of the game and JD’s first couple of at-bats were pretty brutal, but he comes up there at the end and gets the hit to win the game,” Alex head coach Jake Munsch said.

The teams entered the final regulation inning tied at 1-1.

Holthaus got out of the top half of the seventh quickly– retiring Detroit Lakes in order on two pop-ups and a strikeout of Bradly Swiers looking to set up his offense for the win.

“It was obviously a good-pitched game from both sides,” said Munsch. “We had some opportunities where we put runners on base and just couldn’t do anything at the plate but defense made plays behind him.”

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Lake Hagen started the bottom of the seventh with a single and was nearly picked off by DL catcher Grady Kirchner after the first pitch to Grady Anderson. Hagen slid just under the tag of DL first baseman Zack Oistad.

Anderson looked to sacrifice bunt Hagen into scoring position but Henderson scooped up the bunt and threw to shortstop Mason Omberg, who had to reach to grab a high throw to get the lead runner in a very close play.

Alexandria starter Elijah Holthaus reaches back to snag an Andrew Kulik pop-up and kill a Detroit Lakes rally in the sixth inning of Wednesday's playoff opener in Fergus Falls. (Robert Williams / Forum News Service)
Alexandria starter Elijah Holthaus reaches back to snag an Andrew Kulik pop-up and kill a Detroit Lakes rally in the sixth inning of Wednesday's playoff opener in Fergus Falls. (Robert Williams / Forum News Service)

The call went DL’s way, as had a couple other close plays earlier in the game. The result was Munsch having a testy chat with umpires before play resumed.

“We had some questionable stuff going on and I’m very proud of my guys for letting us take control of that,” said Munsch. “It worked out in the end, which is nice.”

Alex second baseman Reed Reisdorf sent a Henderson offering into right field on a rope that died just in front of the diving attempt by DL’s Andrew Kulik to move Anderson to second base.

Henderson got the second out of the inning on a flyball to left field off the bat of Devan Swerman.

A wild pitch low and in the dirt got past Kirchner and to the backstop to allow the runners to move up to second and third base for Hennen.

Hennen ripped a no-doubt line drive into the left field corner to bring Anderson home with the winning run.

Both teams struggled to score against either pitcher.

“We stranded 10 runners and we had a chance for a couple clutch hits in the fifth inning,” DL head coach Phil Kirchner said. “We’ve been hitting clutch all year but that’s baseball. That’s a good baseball team and they took advantage of one mistake we made. Give them credit and we have to come back and swing the bat better tomorrow.”

A two-out single by Hagen in the second inning to score Devin Cimbura was the only scoring for five innings.

Post 15 had at least one runner in scoring position in the second, third and fifth innings against Holthaus but could not convert until the sixth.

Jordan Tucker led off the sixth with a double down the left field line that was a very close call for the home plate umpire as it bounded over the third base bag. Zack Oistad walked to put two DL runners on base and Munsch went to the mound to visit Holthaus and the Alex infield.

Pinch hitter Trevor Schnathorst came to the plate and ripped a single to left field bringing Tucker home with the tying run.

With no outs, Henderson put a sacrifice bunt down to move Oistad to third and Schnathorst to second base, but Holthaus worked out of the jam striking out Omberg looking and getting Kulik to pop up down the first base line, a play that Holthaus made himself.

Grady Anderson (14) is congratulated by Alexandria starting pitcher Elijah Holthaus (20) and Nate Knoll (3) after scoring the winning run of a 2-1 victory over Detroit Lakes in Fergus Falls Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (Robert Williams / Forum News Service)
Grady Anderson (14) is congratulated by Alexandria starting pitcher Elijah Holthaus (20) and Nate Knoll (3) after scoring the winning run of a 2-1 victory over Detroit Lakes in Fergus Falls Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (Robert Williams / Forum News Service)

Holthaus struck out seven and walked two in his complete game effort.

“We really don’t have a defined ace; we could have thrown anybody out there that we would have been comfortable with,” said Munsch. “Elijah is a senior; he’s pitched a lot in big games before. Obviously, winning the first game is important and he did a really good job and set the tone and that’s what we needed him to do.”

Henderson took the loss, but was efficient on the mound in a seven-inning effort for DL. He walked two and struck out three batters.

“He’s been lights out like that all year for us,” said Kirchner. “He gives us a chance...giving up one or two runs a game. You should win a game only giving up two runs.”

Alexandria advances in the championship bracket of the double elimination tournament to play the winner of No. 1 Bemidji and No. 8 Thief River Falls Thursday, July 22 at 4 p.m.

DL plays the loser of No. 3 Perham and No. 6 East Grand Forks Thursday in the elimination bracket at 11 a.m.

No. 4 Alexandria 2, No. 5 Detroit Lakes 1

DL 000 001 0 - 1 6 0

AL 010 000 1 - 2 8 0

WP: Elijah Holthaus; LP: Blaine Henderson