On a day where the Alexandria softball team’s bats were quiet, it was the heart of the order that came through in the clutch to beat Bemidji.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh inning in a 2-2 game, Alexandria (15-6) senior Emma Magaard ripped a double into left-center field. The Lumberjacks (11-11) decided to intentionally walk senior Emily Harris, setting the stage for sophomore Kinzie Johnson.
Johnson took the 1-1 high fastball and belted it over the head of the Bemidji right fielder. Magaard, who was on third, crossed home for the winning run.
“It was a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Johnson said. “It was pretty fun. The whole team came out to congratulate me. When I was running around the bases, I saw my teammates come out of the dugout. It was pretty surreal. It’s nice to have a bunch of big supporters behind me.”
The first one to greet Johnson was Harris, who pitched the last three innings for the Cardinals. She allowed one hit and struck out two batters to earn the win. Seeing her senior captain be the first one to celebrate was a special feeling for Johnson.
“Emily and all of the seniors have been the biggest supporters of us younger girls on this team,” Johnson said. “We have a really young team, and it was just awesome to see them proud of me.”
The game-winning hit would’ve driven in Magaard from second base, but her opportune baserunning took the pressure off Johnson. Bemidji catcher Beth Bolte dropped a pitch in the dirt before Magaard took off for third and slid head-first under the tag. One pitch later, she crossed home plate.
Johnson’s approach at the plate changed from needing a base hit to needing a ball deep enough to score the run.
“I was definitely looking green to put it in the outfield,” Johnson said. “I knew if I could hit a gap shot through the infield, it would be good too. I saw a nice outside pitch and took it to right field.”
Base running was shaky for the Cardinals in the middle innings. In the bottom of the fourth, Bemidji threw out Peyton Goetsch at the plate despite some controversy at third base. The run would’ve put Alexandria up 3-2.
“They missed an interference call at third,” assistant coach Mitch Loch said. “We had our girl coming in from second base, and their third baseman got in the way, and there was some contact on her way home. The ump didn’t see it, and we didn’t get the call. “
The Cardinals threatened again an inning later with three walks. However, no runners touched third base. With runners on first and second, a dropped pitch behind the plate started the fiasco.
“We tell the girls to go if they see something in the dirt,” Loch said. “She took off right away and tried to go back. I think if she would’ve continued running, she would’ve been fine.”
It had been 13 days since Alexandria played in its last competitive softball game, so the rust was to be expected.
“I think that factors into some of those hesitations,” Loch said. “It puts a little bit of doubt in your brain when instead of reacting and playing. The layoff was tough for us in some ways.”
Despite Bemidji pitcher Taylor Waukazo stymieing the Alexandria bats for the better part of Thursday afternoon, the Cardinals got the start they wanted. Johnson drove in two runs with a two-out single into left field after a costly error at third base.
“It was great to come out right away and put up runs,” Johnson said. “We had a couple of practices that were a little iffy. We were throwing the ball around and giving runs away in practice, so it felt good to come out strong.”
Alexandria starting pitcher Josie Steidl threw three perfect innings before the Bemidji bats came alive. Back-to-back doubles from Bolte and Jody Pemberton cut the lead in half. A sacrifice fly from Hannah Alexander tied the game 2-2.
The inning could’ve been worse if not for great catches from center fielder Maddie Buboltz and second baseman Brooke Stender.
“This might have been the best game we played defensively this season,” Loch said. “Along with the pitching, it’s right up there with the best we’ve had all year. The other one was probably our win against Sartell too. We’ve been telling these girls that defense will win championships. We’re proud of how they responded defensively.”
The win sets up Alexandria with the third game against Sartell (17-2). In the final doubleheader of the regular season, the Cardinals split with the Sabres at home. This time, they’ll hit the road Tuesday with a 4:30 p.m. first pitch for a chance to earn a spot in the Section 8AAA title game on June 10.
“We’re super excited,” Johnson said. “We’re eager to win just like we were when they came here. They know we can put up a fight and play right with them. It’ll be a tough matchup.”
The Lumberjacks will host the elimination bracket on Tuesday. Bemidji was one of the hottest 8AAA teams heading into Thursday’s game. After dropping 10-of-11 to start the year, Bemidji entered the second-round matchup on a 10-game win streak.
While the Cardinals got the better of the Lumberjacks for the third time this season, Loch knows there’s a good chance his team could see them again.
“They’ve gotten better since we’ve seen them,” Loch said. “This section tournament is going to be really competitive down the stretch. They gave us a good fight today, and it was important we stayed out of the loser’s bracket. Needing to win two games compared to five for a championship is a big difference.”
BEMIDJI 000 200 0 - 2 4 1
ALEXANDRIA 200 000 1 - 3 9 0
ALEXANDRIA HITTING- Brooke Stender 1-4, R; Jordan O’Kane 2-1, R; Emma Magaard 1-3, R, BB, 2B; Emily Harris 0-1, 3BB; Kinzie Johnson 2-3, 3RBI, BB; Maddie Buboltz 0-2, BB; Maci Tilleskjor 0-3; Aubrie Porter 2-3; Chloe Loch 1-3; ALEXANDRIA PITCHING- Joie Steidl- 4IP, 3H, 2R, 2ER, 4K; Emily Harris- W, 3IP, 0R, 0ER, 2K;
BEMIDJI HITTING- Beth Bolte 1-3, R, 2B; Jody Pemberton 1-3, R, 2B, RBI; Lexi Tatro 1-3, 2B; Hannah Alexander 0-3, RBI; Elizabeth Oster 1-3; Isabelle Neadeau 0-3; Taylor Waukazo 0-2 HBP; Jordan Hunsberger 0-2; BEMIDJI PITCHING- Waukazo- L, 8H, 2R, 1ER, 5K, 6BB