Baseball: Things starting to click for Alexandria after fifth straight win
The Cardinals swept a doubleheader with Central Lakes Conference rival Brainerd on Thursday as pitching led the way in game one before the bats broke out in a 10-2 win in the nightcap.
The Alexandria baseball team started its season with a 1-2 record, but those close losses to Rocori and St. Cloud are beginning to look further in the rear-view mirror.
The Cardinals won their fourth and fifth straight game on Thursday by sweeping Central Lakes Conference rival Brainerd (5-4) in a doubleheader.
Both the Warriors and Alexandria came into the day at 5-2, but the Cardinals (7-2) showcased strong pitching and an offense that is clicking to secure a 3-2 win in the opener and a 10-2 win in the nightcap.
“With a sweep tonight, this gives us confidence,” Alexandria junior Jaxon Schoenrock said. “We got another doubleheader (Friday) against a really good program.”
The Cardinals will head into that Friday doubleheader at Bemidji (6-1) with some momentum after overcoming early deficits in both games against Brainerd.
Brainerd grabbed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning during game two, thanks to a walk, two singles and an Alexandria throwing error.
Senior starting pitcher Parker Jendro settled in after that to throw six strong innings. He struck out four and allowed just two hits after the first inning.
“I like running Parker out there just because I know what I’m going to get from him every time,” Alexandria pitching coach Chris Koep said. “He’s been super consistent going on his second year now. He fills it up, throws strikes and competes. He’ll always give us a chance to win.”
The Cardinals’ offense took over in the top of the third. Caleb Runge singled in a run, and a Brainerd throwing error tied the game at two apiece.
That was part of a 4-RBI game for Runge. He tripled in a run in the fourth inning and scored when Lake Hagen doubled one at-bat later.
Runge laced a two-run double to the left-field fence in the fifth to score Schoenrock and Brock Lerfald to make it 6-2. Not to be outdone, Hagen came up and had a hard-hit single to right that scored Runge.
It was back and forth all night for Runge and Hagen, who were hitting right next to each other in the lineup. Runge just missed a home run to center to start the seventh inning. He settled for a double before Hagen drove him in on the next pitch to make it 10-2.
In total, Runge went 6-for-7 on Thursday with a triple, two doubles, a walk, four runs scored and four RBIs. Hagen was 5-for-8 with four doubles, three RBIs and a run scored.
“For sure,” Runge said when asked if he and Hagen are feeding off each other’s success. “First game against Sartell (on April 29) when we were down, Lake before I went up to bat said, ‘Runge, get on. I got your back.’ He hit that walk-off , and we were all psyched.”
Grady Anderson drove in two more runs in the sixth on a two-out single after base hits from Wyatt Mohr and Spencer Schmidt.
Lerfald (.464 BA), Hagen (.516 BA) and Runge (.519 BA) are all hitting over .400 as full-time starters. Devin Cimbura is hitting .300 in 20 at-bats, and the Cardinals are hitting .331 as a team through nine contests.
Runge, who has an on-base percentage of .629 in 35 plate appearances, said head coach Jake Munsch talked with them earlier this season about taking a better approach at the plate after 1-0 and 5-3 losses in late April. The Cardinals have responded by scoring a combined 51 runs in their five straight wins.
“It’s been working. If one guy gets down, the next guy behind him picks him up,” Runge said.
Alexandria also showed an ability to win a game when the offense missed on a few chances in Thursday’s opener.
The Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs in the first but had nothing to show for it. They stuck with things and pushed across the winning run in the fifth.
Runge singled, and Hagen doubled to start that inning. Runge scored on a passed ball to tie it 2-2. Nate Hammerback then executed a squeeze bunt to score the run from third and give Alexandria its first lead at 3-2.
Schoenrock took things from there. He worked three perfect innings in relief of starter JD Hennen on the mound. Schoenrock struck out the side in the seventh and finished with four strikeouts. He has yet to allow an earned run in 11 innings this spring as he upped his strikeout total to 17.
“I came in down 2-1, so I knew I had nothing to lose,” Schoenrock said. “I just knew I had to do my job, throw strikes and just trust the guys behind me, and that happened.”
Koep liked the way all of his pitchers worked. Lerfald got the final three outs of game two, and Hennen (1-0, 1.75 ERA, 12IP) limited the Warriors to just two runs through four innings.
“JD was probably not feeling real great about his outing,” Koep said. “Jaxon cruised, but I said, ‘Both you guys did what we ask you to do when we give you the ball. All you have to do is give us a chance to win.’ It doesn’t mean you have to strike out five guys or go six, seven innings. Just give us a chance to win. When they only have two runs up on the board at the end of the game, they both did what we needed them to do.”
The Alexandria pitching staff has a team ERA of 1.167 through nine games. Matthew Hornstein did not pitch on Thursday after helping to beat St. Cloud 5-1 on Tuesday. He is 2-0 without allowing an earned run and striking out 11 through 8.2 innings.
“We’re just focused on mainly throwing strikes,” Schoenrock said. “We’re not trying to strike everybody out. We’re trusting our defense. We’ve had a few games with a couple errors, but we’re just trusting the guys behind us and they make the plays.”
Pitching depth for many teams in Minnesota will get tested this year with so many doubleheaders after missing games in early April due to weather. So far, the Cardinals look like they have multiple arms to turn to as they head into another good test at Bemidji on Friday.
“The upside when you do have a bunch of games run together is you’re going to get opportunities for guys who maybe wouldn’t normally get chances this early in the season,” Koep said. “The message will be the same. We fill up the strike zone and compete with the hitters, we’re going to be just fine.”