The Sartell softball team wouldn't be denied on Thursday in the Section 8AAA championship, but that's not stopping Alexandria from holding its head high after a rollercoaster day.
Sartell (19-2) senior Kamille Dougherty burned the Cardinals (16-8) several times this week. After her pair of RBI doubles on Tuesday, she belted two home runs over the left-field wall on Thursday in the Sabres' 12-0 win in five innings. Dougherty also threw five shutout innings and struck out four batters.
"She's a beast out there," Alexandria head coach Randy Albers said. "She's not super overpowering, but just enough to keep you off-balance. She mixes it up and doesn't walk many people. At the plate, you can't give her anything good. As you saw today, she'll take you out of the ballpark."
Sartell put up five runs in each of the first two innings– effectively dominating the game from start to finish. Brooke Stender, Emily Harris, Chloe Loch and Briana Burtzel tallied singles for the Cardinals.
Josie Steidl pitched the final two innings of Alexandria's season and allowed just one earned run on two hits. She also pitched the final 5.2 innings in the Cardinals' first game of the afternoon against Bemidji.
"It's been kind of the same thing with her all year," Albers said. "She goes out there and gets things down the plate. Batters know they can't walk with her, but she doesn't give them a ton of pitches to square up on. She's just a quiet, fierce competitor. She's not physically intimidating, but she's got as much fire as anyone on this team."
Magaard walks off Bemidji
To get to the 8AAA final, Alexandria had to beat Bemidji for a fourth time. After the Lumberjacks took a 7-0 lead in the top of the first inning, the Cardinals kept chipping away until senior Emma Magaard delivered the final blow.
Alexandria beat Bemidji 10-9 in extra innings. Junior Brooke Stender started the ninth inning with a single before junior Jordan O'Kane reached on an error. After intentionally walking Kinzie Johnson to load the bases, all Magaard had to do was get the ball past the infield.
Magaard took the third pitch of the at-bat and roped it under the glove of Bemidji's Jordan Hunsberger. Although the play was recorded as an error, there was no doubt it was good enough to cap off a stunning comeback.
FINAL: Alexandria 10, Bemidji 9.— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) June 10, 2021
What a game. Brooke Stender scores the winning run on an E-4 in the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals score the final seven runs of the game to advance into the section championship series and eliminate the Lumberjacks on a blistering hot day. pic.twitter.com/sASRb85cGZ
"It's a credit to the whole team because they've all had to step up at certain times," Albers said. "Today, if we don't make a play offensively or defensively when we were climbing back into it, we get sent home early. It's been a lot of fun to coach these girls."
Alexandria tied the game in the bottom of the seventh inning when Magaard drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs. However, it was the walk from Chloe Loch in the nine-hole that got things started.
"In her previous at-bat, she had a chance to win the game with two outs," Albers said. "It's hard, but to come back from that takes a lot. She got back in there, gave us a quality plate appearance, and was huge for us. She had a big day at the plate."
O'Kane and Johnson reached base before Magaard's walk tied the game 9-9. But Bemidji senior pitcher, Taylor Waukazo, got out of the jam with her third strikeout of the game.
Bemidji couldn't have asked for a better start to the afternoon. The Lumberjacks hung seven on the Cardinals, including five before they could record an out. Senior Beth Bolte went 2-for-2 in the inning.
The Cardinals did what they've done all year: find a response. Aubrie Porter's RBI triple drove in Alexandria's third run of the inning to kickstart the comeback.
Bemidji scored a pair of runs in the top of the fourth inning with a single and a sacrifice fly, but Magaard's seeing-eye single up the middle scored O'Kane and Johnson to make it 9-5. One inning later, Stender launched a fly ball over the head of Hannah Alexander in centerfield– scoring Porter and Madi Heid.
In Alexandria's second-round walk-off win over Bemidji, Magaard swiped third base before Johnson sent the Cardinal faithful home happy. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Magaard did it again– setting up Harris' RBI single. Alexandria scored runs in four consecutive innings to tie the game.
"I was telling our assistant coaches that sometimes I don't think we know how much we're down by or what the score is because it doesn't matter with this team," Albers said. "They just kind of play like it's 0-0. I don't think I've coached a team that's gotten down and come back as many times as this team has. That's credit to them. It's nothing we do as coaches."
A bittersweet finish
Despite Alexandria's impressive season, there's no doubt Sartell is equipped to represent Section 8AAA well at the state tournament on Tuesday. The Cardinals fought through 14 innings of scorching heat and emotional turns to learn their final lesson in a season full of positives.
After beating Bemidji, it was a challenge for Alexandria to bring the same energy into another battle against the Sabres. But in a year where few Cardinals had any postseason experience, they understand now how important it is to be in the driver's seat.
"When it's this hot, and you play that first game, it takes a lot of you," Albers said. "We definitely aren't using that as an excuse because (Sartell) was the better team. I can't tell you how impressed I've been with these girls the entire season. To get down like we've been and come back time and time again is remarkable. We knew trying to keep that energy going was going to be difficult."
Alexandria says goodbye to six impactful seniors -- Harris, Steidl, Magaard, Maddie Magnuson, Maci Tilleskjor and Paige Habberstad have helped develop the core Cardinals of the future.
"They assumed the roles that were given to them," Albers said. "They never complained about it and were asked to do a lot of different things in practice and in games. I'm really proud of the senior group."
Alexandria fell short of its ultimate goal this postseason but gained invaluable experience for the players coming back next season. With Sartell losing eight seniors and Bemidji losing 10, the Cardinals will likely be one of the favorites to punch a ticket to state next spring.
"You can't replicate the playoff experience," Albers said. "To play, and then to play under pressure is a whole different thing. I'm amazed at how this team responded under pressure. There's a lot to look forward to."