Baseball: Cardinals head into the playoffs with a full head of steam
Alexandria had 15 hits in the win, two of which were home runs by Jordan Kuhnau. The Cardinals (12-8, 7-1 Section 8AAA) now enter the postseason, having won eight out of their last 10 games.
ALEXANDRIA - The tide of Alexandria's Thursday game against Little Falls turned in favor of Little Falls in the top of the fourth inning after it pushed six runs across to take a 6-5 lead.
The Cardinals turned things back in their favor in the bottom of the fifth inning with a 9-run fifth inning that featured junior Jordan Kuhnau's second 3-run home run of the night.
They never again relinquished the lead as they went on to win, 14-8, over Little Falls (13-5, 4-1 Section 8AAA) and finished the regular season 12-8 (7-1 Section 8AAA).
"What I was really impressed with is how we came back fighting after Little Falls scored six runs," Alexandria head coach Jake Munsch said. "It's really easy to get down on yourself there when they take the lead. But the guys were resilient. And we responded. Offensively, we just put the ball all over the park, which was good to see, especially this time of the year."
Earlier in the fifth inning, senior Nick Levasseur hit an RBI double to give Alexandria the 7-6 lead, which was followed by an RBI single from senior Matt Hornstein, a 2-RBI single by junior Cameron Simon, then Kuhnau's second home run of the game (his third of the week).
Hornstein earned the win on the mound for the Cardinals as he struck out six batters in five innings. Senior Max Hess pitched the final two innings, striking out one.
Kuhnau's first home run of the game came in the bottom of the third inning, which gave Alexandria a 4-0 lead.
"Jordan is a phenomenal baseball player," Munsch said. "And obviously, lately, he's been swinging well. We're lucky to have him on the team, and we hope he just continues to do what he is doing."
Alexandria got a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning with Hornstein knocking in a run on a ground ball.
Kuhnau, a South Dakota State commit, now leads the team in home runs this season with four and in RBIs with 20. He also had a .353 batting average and a 1.015 OPS.
He's one of the many juniors on the team that Munsch was excited about at the start of the year and who have grown throughout the season thanks to strong senior leadership.
"I like our team overall, in general, with everybody that's on it," he said. "I think we have a very talented group of people. And we said that to start the year, we'd be comfortable making switches at this point, just with the talent level that we have with the next guy up. The juniors have been instrumental. One thing that we talked about at the beginning of the year was we needed them to adjust to varsity baseball. We saw some of those growing pains in the first half of the season, and that's okay. That's all part of the growing process. You can see now that they're becoming more comfortable and producing more all over the park. It's really fun to see them grow. So I'm very proud of them. I'm proud of the seniors for the leadership that they provide."
Kunhau was one of six Cardinals on the night who had two hits, as Hornstein, seniors Tyler Kludt and Jaxon Schoenrock, and juniors Caleb Gimbel and Gage Castle each had two hits.
"We're just coming together at the right time," Kludt said. "Obviously, 14 runs and 15 hits isn't too bad on the night. It's a collective effort; guys off the bench are knocking in runs, starters are knocking in runs; we're just putting the ball in play, and the defense is backing it up to."
Senior Tyler Kludt leads the team in hits with 25 and has a .357 batting average.
The Cardinals as a team have shown the ability to be productive at the plate as they have a .291 batting average and a .385 on-base percentage.
The Cardinals now end the regular season having won five out of their last six games and eight out of their last 10.
Alexandria has now won at least one game against the other five Section 8AAA foes. Its only section loss, a 10-6 loss on the road against Rocori on May 16, 2023, was avenged by an 8-5 win on May 22, 2023.
"Our confidence level is high," Kuhnau said. "Regardless of how the season goes, we know what kind of team we are and what value we bring to the field. We know the talent that we have, regardless of the wins, losses, or the number we put on the board. We have confidence in everyone, and that's shown in our last couple of games."
Alexandria ended the final week of the 2023 regular season with an 8-5 win over No. 10 (coaches poll) Rocori, a doubleheader split against No. 9 Princeton, and now a win over Little Falls.
The Cardinals ended last year's regular season well, too, winning their final six games. They won a pair of 1-run games to open the playoffs last year and then beat Willmar 8-1 to get to the Section 8AAA Championship.
The Cardinals lost a game to the Flyers 1-0 on championship day but won game two 14-4 and eventually went on to take third place in the state tournament last year.
This year, their goal is to make a deep playoff run again.
Alexandria is the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and hosts the No. 5 seed Sauk Rapids-Rice (4-12, 1-6 Section 8AAA) on Tuesday at Noon.
"We just got to keep it rolling; we're playing good at the right time of the year," Kludt said. "It's all about confidence. We're not scared of any team. So whatever seed we get, we'll take on anyone."
Little Falls - 0 0 0 6 0 2 0 - 8 9 2
Alexandria - 0 1 4 0 9 0 X - 14 15 1
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Tyler Kludt - 2-5, R; Cameron Simon - 1-4, 2 R, 2 RBI; Caleb Gimbel - 2-4, 3 R; Jordan Kuhnau - 3-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI; Jaxon Schoenrock - 2-2, 3 R, 2 BB; Nick Levasseur - 1-1, R, 2 RBI; Gage Castle - 2-4, 2 RBI; Matthew Hornstein - 2-3, R, RBI; Max Hess - 1-1; Spencer Schmidt - 1-3
ALEXANDRIA PITCHING - Matthew Hornstein - W - 5 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 1 ER, 6 SO, 3 BB, 1 HR; Max Hess - 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 SO, 0 BB