The Alexandria baseball team showed off a common recipe for success in a doubleheader sweep over Willmar on Tuesday night at Knute Nelson ballpark.
The Cardinals got great pitching from seniors Beau Backhaus and Nick Knoblach in a 2-1 win in game one. Junior Blake Stockert followed suit with 11 strikeouts in five innings on his way to a win in game two.
Their defense didn’t commit an error all night and got a diving catch by Christian Anderson in left field that saved two runs in the opener. Their bats then came to life in the nightcap as Alexandria scored seven runs in the fourth inning to carry them to a 12-2 win.
The Cardinals believe if they can continue to get clutch hitting that they will win a lot of games this spring behind their pitching staff. I wrote about that rotation and how it’s anchored by two legitimate aces in Backhaus and Stockert for Friday’s issue of the Echo Press.
Here is some more from my interviews with both those guys and head coach Russ Hinrichs after Tuesday’s games.
On how excited he was to come out in game one and set the tone after such a long spring: I was beyond excited to finally get out here and play baseball. I’m sick of being in the RCC and in the gym, taking ground balls and doing flat grounds. It’s just the worst and it’s awesome to play again.
On how he feels about the depth of this rotation during a season where having multiple pitchers will be so important with so many games in so few days: I think we have a great pitching rotation. We have Jake Booth that can come in and put out seven innings for us. Parker Bowden is another starter for us. Then you have Ben Allen and Nick Knoblach coming in and shutting the door.
On how moving up to varsity midway through his sophomore season last year helped him coming into this spring: It just makes you so you’re not as nervous when you come in. I think if you become nervous, you’re not going to be able to play at your best. Once you get a couple games in, you just feel a lot more comfortable up there and you’re able to do what you want.
On what his immediate success (1.03 ERA, 34SO, 20 1/3IP last year) did for his confidence coming into this year: When you come in and get all the luxuries like getting all these strikeouts and everything, not trying to sound cocky at all, but just the way it all unfolded [really helped]. Everything is going really good right now.
On how many pitches he has in his repertoire and what he was relying on against Willmar: I have four pitches. I just didn’t use the change-up because there wasn’t really a need for it tonight. Fastball, curveball, change-up and my slider, which I threw a couple times. But usually that curveball is what sets [hitters] off, just the speeds and the rotation on it.
COACH RUSS HINRICHS
On what he thought of the way his guys played after a long spring practicing inside: You come out here the first game, and we’ve done a lot of practicing inside and over at the Runestone, but you never really know. I think the kids are definitely excited and were ready to play a game.
Pitching and defense are definitely going to be our strength. If we can pitch like we did tonight and play defense like we did tonight, we’re going to be in good shape. The hitting is going to come and go, but we can always stay in every game. To see the way our infield played in the first game, that bodes well for the whole season.
On what went into the decision to have senior Nick Knoblach start this year after he primarily served as a closer last season (Knoblach will get a start against Brainerd today, Thursday): I think he did a great job for us last year. He appeared in 10 games, but I know during the summer he threw some and he started. I think I’d like to see him be that third starter for us and then we can go with [Mitch] Thompson or Ben Allen at the end.
I think Knobby deserves that. I think he deserves it as a senior to pitch a little more, and I know he wants to have a chance to start, and I like having those three guys.
On what he thought of the way his offense played after not facing much life pitching outside coming into the opener: It was great. One thing we talked about as a coaching staff is we love our speed. We’re going to threaten the defense just by putting the ball in play, especially with the top of our order.
I think the second game, it came down to us having some two-out hitting. We had some guys on base and it was just a matter of getting them in. I have no doubt we’re going to get guys on. We can bunt, we can hit the ball on the ground; it’s just, can we get the two-out hitting?
In the second game, you saw that Beau got a big hit there to break it open. Then Mitch Thompson came through, and I thought Knobby, Grant [Becker] and Ben, the top three in our order, were just fantastic all night.
On Stockert and his ability to overpower guys and miss bats: Blake has a bright future. He strikes out a lot of guys so as a result his pitch count gets up there a little bit, so hopefully we can just build his arm strength. He certainly has a bright future. It’s to the point where we were in the dugout, I think he struck out the first four guys, it’s just one, two three, one, two three.