Weather Forecast


Willmar going back to state

Alec Saunders (11) is welcomed by joyous teammates at home plate after he hit a three-run home run that capped a 12-run sixth inning by the Willmar American Legion baseball team against Alexandria Sunday in Spicer. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

SPICER -- In a monumental rally, the Willmar Cardinals overcame a nine-run deficit in one inning and went on to beat Alexandria 13-10 for the District 7-I baseball title Sunday.

Alexandria led 9-0 after five innings and appeared to be a sure bet to force a second game at Green Lake Diamonds.

But Post 167 sent 15 batters to the plate in the top of the sixth and scored 12 runs. Jordan Smith singled in Logan Birkland to tie the score, 9-9.

The stunner turned to a shocker when Alec Saunders drilled a three-run homer to the scoreboard in left-center for a 12-9 lead.

Smith, the third Willmar pitcher, came into to protect the turnabout. He got the save for Andrew Bangen, who pitched two middle innings in relief of Saunders, who left with Willmar trailing 6-0 after three innings.

"I've seen 12-run innings before," said Willmar coach Dave Oehrlein, a former minor leaguer and amateur player, "but not with a team down 9-0. It happened so fast; it was unbelievable."

It's the fourth year in a row Post 167 has tipped Alexandria in the district final. The 16-team Minnesota American Legion State Tournament starts Thursday in New Ulm (two fields) with fields in Essig and Sleepy Eye also in use the first day.

Willmar's 3-0 tournament record hiked its summer mark to 14-9.

"I think we started 4-7," said Oehrlein. "This team just kept getting better."

Willmar, which was 0-2 against Alex in high school and District 7 play this year, seized the momentum on Saturday with a 11-5 win over Post 87.

Catcher John Sawatzky, who has pitched sparingly, moved to the hill and threw a complete game.

"I kind of hit the wall in the fifth inning," said Sawatzky. "But then the adrenalin kind of kicked in."

Smith's two-run homer, his eighth, got Willmar off to a fast start.

Willmar 13, Alexandria 10

Alex sprung to a 9-0 lead combining hard hits with sloppy play by Willmar in the field.

Chris Thompson was thrown out at the plate to end the fifth, or it would have been 10-0.

About all Willmar could do now was avoid being 10-runned in seven innings.

Sam Spaulding led off the sixth by getting tagged in the elbow by a Shawn Krueger pitch.

Then Logan Birkland singled, Austin Adamson doubled in Spaulding (Willmar's first run, trailing 9-1), Smith was walked intentionally to load the bases, Saunders singled (9-2), Sawatzky singled (9-4), Josh Oestreich reached on an error (9-5), Andrew Bangen singled but Sawatzky was thrown out at the plate, Derrick Loiselle reached on an error (9-6), Spaulding struck out, Birkland singled (9-7), Adamson singled (9-8), Smith singled off Alex ace Collin Erickson into relieve (9-9) and Saunders homered (Willmar with a 12-9 lead).

"I think we were overconfident to start because they had to win two," said Smith later. "Then reality kicked in. We'd been hitting the ball hard (early) and finally we got some hits; when it rains it pours."

Smith took over in the sixth and would allow three hits and an unearned run for his second save of the playoffs.

Saunders went 4-for-5 with four RBI. He was batting well under .200 at the end of the regular season but Oehrlein and assistant coach Wade Adamson "revamped his swing" and moved him up from sixth in the order to cleanup. He responded with an 8-for-15 slate.

Willmar 000 00(12) 001 -- 13 14 6

Alexandria 024 130 100 -- 10 8 2

HITTING - Willmar: Logan Birkland 2-folr-5, 2 runs, rbi; Austin Adamson 2-for-5, 2 runs, 2b, 2 rbi; Jordan Smith 1-for-4, 2 runs, rbi; Alec Saunders 4-for-5, 3 runs, 2b, 3-run HR, 4 rbi; John Sawatzky 2-for-4, 3 rbi; Andrew Bangen 3-for-5... Alexandria: Zach Belrels 2-for-6, rbi; Ross Thompson 2-for-5, 2-2b's, rbi; Collin Erickson 3-for-3, 2-bb's, 2 rbi; Karl Brezine 1-for-5, 2b, rbi; Parker Giroux 1-for-4; Luke Beires 1-for-4, 2-sac's, rbi

PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) -- Willmar: Alec Saunders 3-4-6-2-3-2, Andrew Bangen (W) 2-3-4-0-1, Jordan Smith (S) 4-3-1-0-1-3 ... Alexandria: Shawn Krueger (L) 5Xc-10-10-8-2-3, Karl Brezine 3Zc-4-3-3-0-5

Saturday's Game

Willmar 11, Alexandria 5

Sawatzky, who had pitched well in the season finale (a loss at New Ulm), held Alexandria to seven hits, while walking three and fanning five.

"I just mixed speeds," he said. "I'd throw my fastball as hard as I could, then throw a curve or change. The big thing is that the defense was really solid."

Willmar led 6-0 after the second.

Sawatzky's long start meant Smith still had 6Xc innings he could pitch going into Sunday.

Willmar 240 002 021-- 11 10 3

Alexandria 002 010 002 -- 5 7 2

HITTING - Willmar: Logan Birkland 2-for-5; Austin Adamson 2-for-6, rbi; Jordan Smith 2-for-4, 3 runs, 2-run HR, 3 rbi; Alec Saunders 3-for-6, 2 runs, 2-2b's, 3 rbi; John Sawatzky 1-for-4, 2 sac ... Alexandria: Collin Erickson 2-for-5; Parker Giroux 1-for-3; Dalton Leuschke 1-for-3; Ross Thompson 1-for-4

PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) -- Willmar: John Sawatzky (W) 9-7-5-4-3-5 ... Alexandria: Collin Erickson (W) 6-6-8-8-7-7, Parker Giroux 3-3-3-1-0-3

All-Tournament: Kevin Soine, New London-Spicer; Mason Schnaible, Marshall; Nick Buschette, Shane Gutormson, Litchfield; Collin Erickson, Dalton Leuschke, Zach Beires, Alexandria; Jordan Smith, John Sawatzky, Alec Saunders, Willmar.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
(320) 214-4334