The Alexandria softball team was three outs away from what would have been a pretty demoralizing doubleheader sweep at the hands of Sauk Rapids-Rice on Thursday night.
The Cardinals came into the day as the only undefeated team left in conference play. They have their sights set on a CLC title with a veteran roster, but for 13 innings, the Storm had outplayed them to the tune of a 3-2 win in game one and a 6-2 lead going to the seventh in the nightcap.
That’s when everything came together to capture a 9-6 win that could go a long way toward deciding whether or not Alex gets that CLC title at season’s end. It started with a couple hard hit grounders that deflected off the glove of Sauk Rapids’ pitcher Jennifer Rasmussen.
“You need a little bit of luck,” Cardinals head coach Randy Albers said. “It’s crazy how when you get a rally in the late part of a game like that, it starts with maybe a walk or an error or just a couple deflections. Then you need some timely hits, which we got.”
The first one came from junior Taylor Ellingson as she popped up a ball that dropped in front of the left fielder on the first pitch she saw with the bases loaded. The Alexandria runners had to pause halfway to see if the ball would be caught. There was an out to be had at third base, but the throw went home instead.
Not getting that out would prove costly a couple batters later with Emily Kuennen at the plate and the bases still loaded. The junior catcher came up with one out and crushed a pitch to the right field fence that cleared the bases and tied the game on a triple. Jana Roste followed suit with an RBI triple in what would become a seven-run inning for Alexandria.
“I was just looking for contact,” Kuennen said. “The only thing I was thinking was I just want to get my teammates in. They worked so hard to get on base, and it was just a team thing, and we all did our part.”
Kuennen kept coming back to the team and how important it was that everybody played their roles. It’s a a core group that has played together a few years at the varsity level now, and they’ve been through these kinds of situations before. They know how important it is that they pick each other up.
Ellingson threw well for most of the night, taking a tough-luck loss in a low-scoring game one. She started the second game as well before giving way to Joycelin Steidl with two outs in the fourth inning after Sauk Rapids had taken a 6-1 lead. Steidl pitched 2 1/3 clean innings before Ellingson came back out for the seventh to pick up the save.
“We all did our part when it comes to hitting, fielding, pitching – everyone contributed,” Kuennen said. “It just goes to show how teamwork can really make a difference in a game. If we all put our minds to it and we focus and have a good mental game, we’re going to come out strong in the end.”
That ended up being the case in a game that the Cardinals really wanted on their home field. There is plenty left to play out, but the win moved Alexandria to 6-1 in CLC play and dropped the Storm to 4-3. Rocori also has just one loss at 4-1 and St. Cloud Tech isn’t far behind at 6-3.
The Cardinals needed to protect their home field with some tough road games still ahead. Included in that is a game at Rocori tonight, Friday, and a doubleheader at St. Cloud Tech to end the regular season on May 17.
Brainerd had been so dominant in the CLC in year’s past with hard-throwing pitcher Nikki Anderson anchoring that team. Anderson, now a freshman at the University of Minnesota, was the 2012 Ms. Softball in Minnesota and the Gatorade Minnesota Softball Player of the Year. The league has opened up with her out of the picture, and the Cardinals believe they have the pieces and the experience to be the new team on top in 2013.
“The pressure is on us right now,” Kuennen said. “We’re the team that people want to get and we’re just trying our best to keep up the spirit. That (winning the CLC) would be a great way to represent Alexandria softball, and that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s our goal.”
Thursday’s come-from-behind win could be an important part of the season if they are able to attain that goal. Now they hope to carry the momentum from that into another big game with the Spartans tonight.
“A great day would have been a sweep,” Albers said. “But a good day is a split. It took to the very end, but we’re very fortunate. I was talking to the [Sauk Rapids] coach, and they pretty much outplayed us for [one] game and six innings. We just got lucky in the end…the girls never gave up and it was a nice comeback.”