Baseball: Alexandria makes its claim as the best team in program history after third-place finish
Alexandria bounced back from a loss to top-ranked Mankato West in the semifinals on Wednesday to win the third-place game in six innings against Grand Rapids. It gives the Cardinals a top-three finish in state for the first time in program history.
CHASKA — Players and coaches for the Alexandria baseball team have talked about how this group is capable of fighting through adversity all spring, and the Cardinals showed it one last time on Wednesday to cap off arguably the best season in program history.
Alexandria almost beat the No-1-ranked team in Class AAA in the semifinals to open the day. The Cardinals led Mankato West 2-0 before an out was ever recorded, but the Scarlets are 25-1 for a reason. They brought in senior reliever Tanner Shumski, who threw seven two-hit innings, and Mankato rallied for a 3-2 win to secure its spot in the June 17 championship game.
Alexandria had a few hours before the third-place game to recover from that emotional letdown. The Cardinals bounced back and beat Grand Rapids (17-8) 13-3 in six innings to bring home a third-place trophy. They finish the season with a 21-7 record overall.
“Obviously, this morning was devastating. It hurts,” Alexandria head coach Jake Munsch said. “We really wanted to get to that (championship) game. Three years in a row we’ve lost heartbreakers in that situation, and we’ve never won the next one. Today is the best day in program history with a third-place finish. Guys were resilient. They came back, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Alexandria came into this week 2-8 all time in four prior state tournament appearances. The Cardinals went 2-1 and became the first team in program history to finish in the top three of a state tournament.
“We’re going to look back on this when we’re older and think about how much we created a bond with these guys,” senior second baseman Brock Lerfald said. “It’s awesome doing this for Munsch. He’s always wanted to finish higher than fourth, so I’m glad we did it for him. I’m glad the team worked together so well this season.”
Lerfald ended the third-place game by the 10-run rule when his ground ball back to the pitcher was not fielded cleanly as Dayton Downing came home with the winning run. It was part of a six-run sixth inning for Alexandria.
Against Mankato West, Reed Reisdorf and Lerfald singled to lead off the game before Caleb Runge was hit by a pitch. A wild pitch scored one run before a Jaxon Schoenrock single drove in another run for an early 2-0 lead.
Shumski came into the game for starting pitcher Alexander Dittbenner with the bases loaded and nobody out. Shumski got out of that first inning without any further damage done after getting a third-to-home ground out, fly out to center field and then a strikeout.
Shumski threw just 72 pitches, 51 that went for strikes. Schoenrock gave Alexandria a chance to win, going all six innings and allowing three runs, just one earned, on seven hits and three walks. He struck out four.
Both pitchers also worked through a near 30-minute rain delay that came in the fourth inning.
“We score a couple more runs there, that’s a big deal, but you got to give credit to the other team too,” Munsch said. “They came into a difficult situation and shut us down without any more runs. The rain delay didn’t help, but we played wonderful. It was a really, really good baseball game against a really, really good team. If that’s the No. 1 team in the state, we were right there with them.”
Mankato West took a 3-2 lead with two unearned runs in the bottom of the fifth. After a leadoff walk, a hard-hit grounder went off Nate Hammerback's glove at first base in a play that was ruled an error.
Lerfald fielded the ball from the hole at second, raced to first base and slid to the bag but was unable to get the runner. Lerfald bounced up and threw a strike to third base to get an out on the lead runner trying to advance to third.
That could have been a turning point for Alexandria in the inning, but the Scarlets brushed it off and followed with three straight singles with two outs, a couple that did not leave the infield. Louis Magers drove in a run to tie it, and Avery Stock walked with the bases loaded for what turned out to be the game-winning run.
“Munsch kept us motivated,” Lerfald said. “He told us, ‘You can be the best team in Alex history.’ I really wanted that and so did the other guys. We kept our heads up.”
Alexandria’s offense went from facing a pitcher in Shumski who threw in the upper 80’s with his fastball to seeing a guy with much slower velocity in Grand Rapids’ starter Nolan Svatos.
The Cardinals fell behind 2-0, but led 3-2 after a two-run home run from senior Caleb Runge in the third inning. Runge hit the ball hard all day as three other balls just missed clearing the fence for outs near the warning track.
Senior Grady Anderson had a diving catch in right field against Grand Rapids and also tripled with one out in the fourth. Devin Cimbura got his second RBI of the day with a single that made it 4-2, and the Cardinals opened up the game in the fifth with a Lake Hagen RBI double and two more runs scored on an error with two outs.
That was plenty of run support for Parker Jendro. The right-hander closed out the state-opening win over St. Thomas Academy Tuesday and then went six innings against Grand Rapids. He struck out four and allowed just two earned runs.
“Our pitching staff has been incredible all year,” Munsch said. “Parker came in today and pitched a complete game after he threw a little bit the other night. Total confidence in him. He did it again, and here we are.”
Jendro is part of a big senior class for Alexandria as Will Suchy, Nate Knoll, Lerfald, Reisdorf, Hagen, Runge, Nate Hammerback, JD Hennen, Downing, Anderson, and Cimbura joined Jendro in playing their last game in a Cardinals’ uniform.
“I’ve been hanging out with these seniors my whole life,” Lerfald said. “We’ve always dreamed about going to the state tournament. Doing it with them is awesome, and we had the juniors who bonded really well with us. We’ve become really good friends.”
It’s a group that left its mark on the program by proving it could play with many of the best teams in the state. Along with the two wins in Chaska and playing Mankato West close, Alexandria also had wins over eight Class 4A teams this spring.
“When we played the 4A schools, we had I think six wins in a row,” Cimbura said. “That’s when we kind of realized, ‘Wow, we are a really good team.’ We competed against a lot of really good pitching. We see people in the CLC who throw 80-miles per hour almost every game. We see kids who can hit a home run any time, but we showed we can do the same thing.”
On and off the field, it was a group that Munsch won’t soon forget.
“They understood the game, they played it the right way, they did well in the classroom,” Munsch said. “It just wasn’t a group we had to worry about outside of baseball. Alexandria should be tremendously proud of what they accomplished, and I’m very grateful to get to coach such a wonderful group of kids.”
It won’t be easy to replace a good group of seniors, but Munsch is also excited about the position the program is in as a whole going forward.
“Alexandria baseball has never been in a better spot when it comes to the kids that we have out,” Munsch said. “Our numbers have never been higher, our younger levels are doing tremendously well. I’m very confident in how we’re preparing our younger players in the summer to get them ready for varsity. I have all the confidence that we’re going to be a tough team to beat in the future.”
GRAND RAPIDS 110 001 - 3 7 3
ALEXANDRIA 012 136 - 13 13 2
PITCHING - Alexandria - Parker Jendro - W, 6IP, 7H, 3R, 2ER, 1BB, 4SO; Grand Rapids - Nolan Svatos - L, 4.2IP, 8H, 7R, 4ER, 1BB, 2SO; Tyler Norgard - 0.2IP, 5H, 6R, 6ER, 3BB, 1SO
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Reed Reisdorf - 0-4; Wyatt Mohr - 0-1; Brock Lerfald - 2-5, 2 runs, RBI; Caleb Runge - 1-4, HR, 2 runs, 2 RBI; JD Hennen - 2-4, 2 runs; Jaxon Schoenrock - 1-3; Will Suchy - 1-1, 2B, 2 runs, 2 RBI; Nate Hammerback - 1-3, BB, 2 runs; Lake Hagen - 2-3, 2B, BB, 2 RBI; Spencer Schmidt - 1 run; Grady Anderson - 1-2, 3B, BB, 1 run; Dayton Downing - 1-1, 1 run; Devin Cimbura - 1-2, HBP, 2 RBI; Nathan Knoll - BB
ALEXANDRIA 200 000 0 - 2 5 1
MANKATO WEST 000 120 X - 3 7 0
PITCHING - Alexandria - Jaxon Schoenrock - L, 6IP, 7H, 3R, 1ER, 3BB, 4SO; Mankato West - Alexander Dittbenner - 0IP, 3H, 2R, 2ER, 1BB, 0SO; Tanner Shumski - W, 7IP, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 7SO
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Reed Reisdorf - 1-3, 1 run; Brock Lerfald - 1-3, 1 run; Caleb Runge - 0-2, HBP; JD Hennen - 0-2, BB; Schoenrock - 1-3, RBI; Nate Hammerback - 0-3; Lake Hagen - 0-3; Grady Anderson - 1-3; Devin Cimbura - 1-3
MANKATO WEST OFFENSE - Ryan Haley - 1-3, 1 run; Dittbenner - 3-3, 1 run; Louis Magers - 1-3, RBI; Avery Stock - 0-1, 2 BB, RBI; Jace Liebl - 1-3, RBI; Luke Johnson - 0-3; Riley Bersaw - 1-2, BB; Shumski - 0-3; Talay Sartell - 1 run; Ryan Ploog - 0-3