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Area Baseball: Cards crush Flyers state hopes

Little Falls competed in the Section 8-3A Championship game.

A pitcher throws the ball
<br/>Little Falls senior Zach Gwost pitches against Alexandria in the Section 8-3A championship round June 8, 2022, in St. Cloud. Gwost threw a complete-game shutout with eight strikeouts to win 1-0 and force a winner-take-all Game Two with Alexandria for the section title.<br/><br/>
Eric Morken / Forum News Service
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ST. CLOUD — The Alexandria baseball program made it to the state tournament in 1972 and 1975 before having to wait more than 40 years to get back until they broke through with section titles in 2017 and 2018.

The Cardinals have been consistent threats in their section almost every year since, and on Wednesday, June 8, in St. Cloud, they broke through again after a few tense moments.

Sixth-seeded Little Falls (13-12) forced a winner-take-all Game Two after a 1-0 win in Game One, but second-seeded Alexandria (19-6) bounced back to take the second game 14-4 in six innings for the section title.

“This was something I was looking forward to since I was an eighth-grader watching the bigger guys play,” Alexandria senior Caleb Runge said. “We saw them go to state (in 2018), and I thought, ‘Man, I want to do that.’ We’ve been playing together since we were fifth and sixth-graders. We all stuck through it. In ninth grade, there was like 30 guys who went out for baseball. Our main group stayed together, and it feels great because we’re all family.”

The biggest momentum swing all night came in the first inning of Game Two. Little Falls followed its win in the opener by loading the bases with nobody out in the top of the first. Alexandria junior Jaxon Schoenrock induced a 1-2-3 double play before a strikeout left the bases loaded.

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Schoenrock went on to pitch 4 2/3 innings, striking out eight before leaving in a 9-2 game ahead of Nick Levasseur and Parker Jendro closing it out on the mound.

“You could hear it from the crowd after we get out of that inning with bases loaded and no outs. (Head coach Jake) Munsch was really excited,” Schoenrock said. “That’s the most excited I’ve seen him in a while. I think that brought the momentum our way. It kind of just fired us all up and got us going from the start.”

A baseball player tags another player
Little Falls third baseman George Moore places the tag on Alexandria's Reed Reisdorf during the Section 8-3A championship round June 8, 2022, in St. Cloud. Eric Morken / Forum News Service<br/><br/>

The Cardinals took control in the bottom of the second. Nate Hammerback doubled in the first run of the night for his team. Grady Anderson followed with a sacrifice fly to right that scored a run and Reed Reisdorf singled in a run to make it 3-0.

“It’s kind of been the story all year, not letting adversity bother us and continuing to play really, really well,” Munsch said. “They had all the momentum, bases loaded no outs in the first. If they score there, I think it’s a totally different game. Then I felt like if we got one run across that we were going to open the floodgates. That’s kind of what happened.”

JD Hennen hammered a two-out double that scored two in the third. He came around to score one at-bat later on a Little Falls’ error that made it 6-0.

Alexandria knocked Little Falls starter Matt Filippi from the mound after Caleb Runge doubled in a run and Lake Hagen followed with a run-scoring single to make it 8-2 with one out in the bottom of the fourth.

The offense kept coming for Alexandria. Schoenrock added an RBI single off of Collin Kray in the fourth before Reed Reisdorf doubled in two runs in the fifth. The game ended by the 10-run rule on an infield error by the Flyers in the sixth when a ground ball off the bat of Brock Lerfald scored two after the throw got away at first base.

The Flyers committed five errors in game two, and Alexandria combined that with 17

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total hits.

“In game one, we couldn’t get the timely hits,” Munsch said. “We threatened, but in (game two), we just overpowered them. We ran the bases really well, took advantage of some of their mistakes and took advantage of every scoring opportunity we could. Up and down the lineup, it wasn’t an easy out for them.”

Little Falls won Game One behind a gem from hard-throwing senior Zach Gwost. Alexandria put at least one runner on against him in every inning as they scattered six hits. Gwost found a way out of it every time as he struck out eight.

The Flyers’ lone run came in the second inning when Alexandria starter JD Hennen was still finding his control. Hennen settled in and went a strong five innings, striking out eight before Levasseur worked two scoreless innings to end it.

Little Falls put pressure on in the second inning with two walks and two hit batters. Junior Beau Thoma had the lone hit of the inning as his ground ball up the middle scored what turned out to be the game-winning run.

It was not a position Alexandria wanted to be in going into Game Two, but it also was nothing to panic about for a group that has won big games all season.

“Some guys were a little down in the locker room, but (assistant coach Chris) Koep came in and gave us a pep talk,” Runge said. “Second inning, we put up three runs, and we were like, ‘OK, we’re fine.’”

The Cardinals earned their trip to state in a competitive field. Section 8-3A featured three of the top 10 teams in Class 3A according to the QRF on Minnesota-scores.net in Willmar (No. 6), Alexandria (No. 4) and Rocori (No. 9). Sauk Rapids-Rice was also ranked 13th.

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The Cardinals went through Detroit Lakes, Sauk Rapids-Rice, Willmar and the sixth-seeded Flyers to secure the title.

Going through some good teams in these playoffs gives the Cardinals some confidence that they can compete with whichever teams they may face at the state tournament.

“It’s like any other baseball game,” Schoenrock said. “It’s state, but we need to go into it and have fun and enjoy the moment. We’re going to go there, try to compete and win and bring home a state title.”

The Class 3A state tournament opens with the quarterfinals in Chaska Tuesdya, June 14. The losers of those opening games play in Jordan June 15, while the semifinalists are back at Chaska June 15.

The Class 3A championship is 4 p.m. June 17 from Target Field in Minneapolis.

“I think we’re capable of a lot,” Munsch said. “We’re one of the best teams too, and that’s why we’re going down there. Our expectation is to win baseball games. Win or lose, we’re so proud of these boys. They’ve worked really hard, and what a great way to represent Alexandria heading down there again after a short stint of not making it.”

Little Falls finishes its season with a 13-12 record.

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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