Alexandria baseball coach Russ Hinrichs was as surprised as anybody at the way the top-seeded Cardinals played on their home field in a 10-0 loss in six innings to Brainerd on Thursday night.
“I told the kids, I saw a hungry team come here against a team that was overconfident, for whatever reason,” Hinrichs said. “We weren’t ready to play and they were. That’s hard to explain. We haven’t been 10-runned all year. To play that way at home, in front of a good crowd again, is disappointing. You don’t get many opportunities to put yourself in that position. Now we’re going to have to come back and muster up the energy and the courage to come back through the loser’s bracket.”
Alexandria wasn’t the same team that Hinrichs has watched win 15 games to this point. The Cardinals weren’t sharp on defense with three errors. Their bats racked up only three hits and they didn’t get the start they are accustomed to getting from Blake Stockert.
The junior lefty, now 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA, was dominant through his first five starts and his offense had backed him by 10-running every opponent. Brainerd made it clear that wasn’t going to be the case from the get-go.
“I felt fine,” Stockert said. “It’s just, they’re the best team I’ve faced yet this year. They just really knew how to hit the ball. They must have really been practicing hitting lefties. I mean, anything I threw, they were just pretty much making contact. Yeah, we made some errors and you can’t rely just on your pitching. You need your whole team also, and we just weren’t all there tonight.”
The Warriors got three runs in the first inning, aided by two Alexandria errors. That set the tone as a good Warriors team was never intimidated by a guy who can overpower opponents when he has all his stuff working.
“They just never quit,” Stockert said. “They were just hungry the whole time. Anything that you wanted to happen would just go completely wrong. They played the game of baseball, pretty much. That’s all you can say. They’re a good team.”
The Warriors are now 15-6, despite losing the two regular-season games they played against Alexandria. That had no bearing on the way they played on Thursday. Brainerd got a complete-game gem from lefty Tom Graumann, and its offense chased Stockert after four innings. The Warriors got to him for eight runs, five earned, on 11 hits and two walks. Stockert struck out three.
“He obviously didn’t pitch as well as he can,” Hinrichs said. “He was up, and he only had one pitch. He couldn’t throw anything but a fastball, and they’re a good fastball hitting team. We gave them a lot of extra outs, though. We didn’t do the things that have gotten us to this point. We weren’t sharp defensively. We weren’t backing up bases. We weren’t playing the way we played all year. That’s probably the most disappointing thing. When you get to the playoffs, you want to play your best baseball and we didn’t today.”
The opportunity is there for the Cardinals to bounce back next Monday. Alexandria will be at the MAC in St. Cloud where it will play either Big Lake or Sauk Rapids-Rice at 11 a.m. A win and the Cardinals would play right after that against either St. Michael-Albertville or Moorhead at 1:30.
This is an Alexandria team that hasn’t lost back-to-back games all season. Stockert, for one, is confident that won’t change as the Cardinals try to battle back through the loser’s bracket.
“It sucks but we can’t let this get us down,” he said. “We need to come right back tomorrow and keep working. I feel 100 percent sure we’re going to win that game (on Monday). We just had one ugly game, and I know that won’t put us down. We’ll definitely win our next game.”
Hinrichs said senior Beau Backhaus will get the ball in game one on Monday. He is 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA and has pitched in some of Alexandria’s biggest games this season. If the Cardinals win, Hinrichs said a game-two starter wasn’t determined yet but Stockert or senior Nick Knoblach are the likely candidates to get the ball. There is no doubt that Stockert would love another opportunity to get up on the mound in a must-win situation.
“Everyone is not going to have a perfect season,” he said. “Going 6-0, that’s pretty much almost unheard of. As soon as we win this next game, because I know we will, anything I can do to go up on that mound is just going to be another honor. I know I’ll do good.”
Alexandria can guarantee itself an opportunity to play back at home if it can make it through Monday. Next Tuesday’s games will be played at the highest remaining seed’s home field. That’s an advantage the Cardinals hope they have a chance to exploit as they take things game-by-game from here on out.
“We’re facing adversity,” Hinrichs said. “Now we need to see if we can fight back…the biggest thing for us is if we win two on Monday, we’re back here. It’s been a great year at home. We have to go there on Monday and just take one game at a time now.”