This wasn’t the way the Alexandria baseball team imagined a memorable season ending.
The top-seeded Cardinals had one of their best teams in recent history and felt it had the pieces to make a run at a section title. They came up just short of that goal as Alexandria fell a game shy of an 8-3A title game appearance after losing 7-6 to Brainerd last night.
“This is the hardest way to lose, especially to Brainerd in front of all our fans and everything,” senior third baseman Ben Allen said from Knute Nelson ballpark on Wednesday. “It doesn’t get any worse than this.”
The Cardinals were three outs away from matching up against eventual section-title winner Rocori. Alexandria led 6-5 going to the top of the seventh inning before Brainerd’s Nate DeChaine drilled a Blake Stockert slider to center field for a two-run home run.
“I just hung it,” Stockert said. “I was kind of second guessing it when I threw it. I don’t know. I just threw it, left it up. I didn’t keep it down where I was supposed to. He’s a good hitter and he did what he was supposed to do with it.”
Stockert battled through six innings before Jake Booth came on to get the final three outs of the seventh. Stockert settled down and threw four scoreless frames after allowing four runs in the first. The Cardinals used that to battle back and take a 6-4 lead in the fifth after an RBI double by Allen.
Brainerd kept applying pressure, though. The Warriors finally broke through again with a sacrifice fly that scored a run in the sixth. They then took advantage of a lead-off walk in the seventh before DeChaine connected on a pitch up in the zone.
“There’s nothing we can say as coaches that’s going to make them feel any better,” head coach Russ Hinrichs said. “I think they’re hurting, but they put a lot into it. You get out of it what you put into it, and they put a lot into this season. It’s not the way we wanted to finish, but I’m proud of them. I thought we played hard all year. We very easily could have quit in that game, but we didn’t. We kept battling and took the lead. They’re going to remember this season for what they accomplished for a long time.”
What they accomplished is a 17-8 record and this program’s second Central Lakes Conference title. The only other league title for Alexandria came in 2002 when the Cardinals finished 12-2, one game ahead of Rocori. The Spartans and Alexandria both finished 11-3 this season.
“We really came together during the whole season,” Stockert said. “As the season went on, we just started killing teams. We played really, really well. As we got to the end of the year, I don’t know. We didn’t piece together what we’ve done the whole season. We just didn’t pull it out like we needed to do right at the end.”
The Cardinals will have those memories to fall back on once the disappointment of Wednesday’s loss disappears. Games like a walk-off winner over Rocori after the Cardinals trailed 3-0 going to the final inning on May 10 will stick with these guys.
“Walking off against Rocori for sure,” Allen said of what he will remember most from his senior year. “And just spending time with this team. It’s a lot easier when you’re tight like this team. Compared to all other sports I’ve been involved with, this team is a lot more fun to be around.”
That’s ultimately what Hinrichs wants these players to remember. He knows coming up short of their final goal will hurt for a little while, but what he doesn’t want it to do is take away from what this group accomplished over its entire body of work.
“To win a conference title, that’s a big step for this program,” he said. “Our goal, every year when we sit down is I want coaches to say, ‘We’re going to have to beat Brainerd, Rocori and Alexandria.’ I want to get our program into that little trio of teams, and I think we’re there. I think every year people will know we’re going to fight and battle. This team brought a conference championship to Alexandria and that will be their legacy. They’ll hang a banner and 17 wins is not easy. It was a good season and we have nothing to hang our heads about.”