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Baseball: Loss to top-ranked Willmar provides some learning lessons for Alexandria

Willmar and Alexandria are both ranked in the top 10 of the American Legion Division I baseball rankings from June 23, and Willmar rallied from a 4-2 deficit to beat Post 87 7-4 on Wednesday.

Spencer Schmidt and Cole Vatsndal
Alexandria's Spencer Schmidt, left, and Cole Vatsndal head back to their dugout after they had crossed the plate with the go-ahead runs in the fourth inning on a Brock Lerfald single that made it a 4-2 game against Willmar on June 29, 2022. Willmar bounced back in the next half inning to retake the lead in an eventual 7-4 win.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — Two top-10 teams on the American Legion baseball scene met up in Alexandria on Wednesday night, and it was Willmar that left with a 7-4 win over Alexandria.

Willmar Post 167 is the No. 1-ranked team in the June 23 Division I Minnesota American Legion Baseball rankings. Alexandria Post 87 (5-4) is 10th in those rankings.

Even in a loss, it was a good test for an Alexandria team that continues to mix its lineup with experienced varsity seniors from 2022 and up-and-coming players who figure to fill the roster in the spring of 2023.

“Willmar is a good ballclub and we hung right with them,” Alexandria coach Jake Munsch said. “I think we’re just as good as they are, hands down…We have a very talented group all the way through. It’s about building our program and continuing to get better for our high school season. That’s what we’re going to try to do all summer long.”

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Alexandria beat Willmar on June 4 during its run to a Section 8-3A championship during the high school season. Willmar is now 2-0 against Post 87 this summer after also winning a 1-0 game earlier this summer.

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Players on Senior Legion teams can be up to 19 years old , meaning it’s possible for teams to welcome back athletes who are a year removed from graduation if they meet the age limit.

“Another example of how we’re trying to build our program is we don’t allow super seniors to play,” Munsch said. “We face a lot of those guys who come back after graduating. We want to make sure we’re developing our high school program, and we’ll continue to do that.”

It’s not that this year's 2022 graduated seniors won’t play this summer. But those guys may give up their normal spots on the field to give an underclassmen an opportunity to show what he can do at their more natural position.

Reed Reisdorf, Caleb Runge, Nate Hammerback, and Jaxon Schoenrock are examples of 2022 graduated seniors who started on Wednesday in spots they typically did not play this past spring. Munsch will not deviate from what he feels will make the Alexandria program better in the long run, even with a top team and rival like Willmar in town.

“Our juniors have to get playing time,” Munsch said. “That means a lot of our kids, especially our seniors, are going to play positions maybe they never have to open up spots for those kids. The way we look at this is this is a very extended trial for them to show us what they’re capable of doing, and they’ve done a really good job for the most part. The thing we’re lacking a little bit is just that baseball knowledge of anticipating plays and what’s going to happen next.”

Ian Koosman
Willmar's Ian Koosman pitches against Alexandria Post 87 during an American Legion baseball game on June 29, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Willmar ace Ian Koosman was cruising with five strikeouts through three innings on Wedneday and just one hit allowed on a Brock Lerfald double before his night ended after four unearned runs in the fourth. Koosman features a hard fastball and a big-breaking curveball.

Alexandria started that rally with two outs when Jaxon Schoenrock reached on an error off of a ground ball. Augie Gulbranson, who had two hits, followed with an infield hit before Cole Vatsndal drove in the team’s first run with a single.

Back-to-back walks from Nick Levasseur and Reed Reisdorf made it 2-2. Lerfald then got his second hit of the night, this one a two-run single that made it 4-2.

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“We’ve faced Koosman now a few times, and he’s a good pitcher but what we don’t want to do is give someone so much credit that we just crumble in the box,” Munsch said. “He’s an extremely confident pitcher because he knows he’s going to pitch well. What we did a better job of as the game went on is anticipating what kind of pitch is he going to throw? We came up with some timely hits to score those four runs.”

Cole Vatsndal
Alexandria's Cole Vatsndal looks back at coach Jake Munsch for a sign during an at-bat against Willmar on June 29, 2022. Vatsndal drove in Post 87's first run of the game with a single in the fourth inning.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Willmar came back with three runs in the top of the fifth against reliever Devin Cimbura. Koosman drove in a run on an infield single in the hole between third and short to start the scoring.

A Dylan Arndorfer at-bat gave Willmar a 5-4 lead on a ground-ball fielder’s choice to short that scored one run. The throw from second to first on an attempted double play that would have ended the inning was in the dirt and got away from Augie Gulbranson at first. The throwing error brought in the go-ahead run.

Arndorfer added a run-scoring single in the top of the seventh off of Jaxon Schoenrock before Jason Malmgren made it a 7-4 game with a run-scoring double. Malmgren also got the pitching win in three scoreless innings of relief.

JD Hennen started for Alexandria and went four innings in a no-decision. He struck out six and allowed two runs — one on a passed ball and another on a wild pitch.

Devin Cimbura
Alexandria's Devin Cimbura pitches in the top of the fifth inning against Willmar on June 29, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Cimbura, who threw just six innings during the spring season, came back nicely in the sixth inning and struck out the side for Alexandria.

Munsch and Koep talked to their guys for a few extra minutes in the huddle after the loss.

“Overall, we didn’t play terrible,” Munsch said. “We just want to see us improve the little things that a lot of people don’t notice. It’s not just about stepping between the lines and going through the motions. It’s about being engaged, understanding baseball. What I really like to see is when a bunt rotation needs to be put on, nine guys are looking at me because they know it’s going to be called. That tells me we’re in the game and we understand it. They’re doing a really good job. We just want to see them be a little more instinctual about the game.”

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Willmar is not in the same district as Alexandria during the Legion season, meaning these two teams will not see each other in the playoffs. Post 87 will try to bounce back on Friday when Alexandria hosts a doubleheader with Perham starting at noon at Knute Nelson Ballpark.

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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