Baseball: A unique experience for Willmar Cardinals
Willmar enjoyed its chance to play Alexandria at Target Field after the Twins' game
MINNEAPOLIS — The Willmar Cardinals got the full major league experience on Saturday.
Willmar and Alexandria were selected to play in the HS Baseball Series back in November. And on Saturday afternoon, the two teams met at Target Field for a Central Lakes Conference matchup at Target Field. The two teams met following the Minnesota Twins’ 10-4 loss to the Washington Nationals.
“The Twins contacted me in November, asking if we’d be interested,” said Willmar head coach Tom DeBoer. “They’re starting this high school baseball series and they were hopeful that we would be one of the outstate reps to play here. They mentioned they were kind of thinking Alex would be a good matchup … and I thought Alex was a great choice. I really like what they’re doing with their program.”
Over two hours away from their usual home fields, Willmar and Alexandria soaked up the bright lights on a pristine major-league field on a chilly spring Saturday. They started the day watching the Twins/Nationals game. The two teams warmed up after the major-league players cleared the field. Playing as the home team, Willmar brought singers for the national anthem and had its own public address announcer.
The result was far from ideal for Willmar. Alexandria put up 12 hits and capitalized on seven Willmar errors for a 20-0 five-inning victory.
“It was exciting,” said junior third baseman/center fielder Dylan Staska. “I think the nerves got to us a little bit.”
After fielding senior-heavy rosters the past few seasons, Willmar is adapting to a new reality. Of the team’s 15 varsity players, 13 are playing varsity ball for the first time.
“Obviously the game didn’t work out for us today,” DeBoer said. “They’re in for a few games like this this season. It’s important that they learn from them and grow from them and hopefully that makes them better if they’re able to react the right way from it.”
Willmar was wide-eyed while preparing for the game. A top-of-the-line playing surface took some getting used to.
“The infield grass is cut a lot differently and it rolls a lot faster in the outfield,” said Staska, who had previously been to “four or five” games at Target Field before getting to play at the stadium on Saturday. “No bumps or anything. You’re expecting a bad hop off the lip and it doesn't. It’s just different.”
Ten players had hits for Alexandria. Tyler Kludt was 2-for-5 — including a triple to lead off the game — with two runs scored. Wyatt Mohr went 2-for-4 with a double, three RBIs and a run scored. Starting pitcher Jaxon Schoenrock struck out six over the first two innings.
Staska got Willmar’s lone hit. The team’s No. 2 batter, Staska hit a grounder to shortstop and was able to leg out an infield single.
“Looking for a good pitch, (Schoenrock) gave me a fastball right away and I took advantage since I knew he had good off-speed,” Staska said. “He probably wouldn’t give me anything else in the at-bat. Didn’t get great contact on it but I was able to leg out a single.”
Willmar has four games this week. A non-conference game at Little Falls is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday. The Cardinals have a CLC doubleheader with Brainerd at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Bill Taunton Stadium. Willmar concludes the week at 5 p.m. Thursday at Sauk Rapids.
Though it was a frustrating afternoon on the field, it was an experience the Willmar nine won’t soon forget.
“You watch the Twins play here all the time and to get the chance to play here is pretty cool being under all the lights and everything,” Staska said.
DeBoer added, “It was fun. It’s a one-in-a-lifetime experience for 99% of the people in the world. I was really happy that our kids got to experience that.
“There were a million things going on in the last week. We wanted to make it as good as we could make it. It was still a good experience, win or lose.”
Alexandria 20, Willmar 0
Alexandria 190 64-20 12 0
Willmar 000 00-0 1 7
Hitting - Alexandria: Tyler Kludt 2-5 3b r-2, Gage Castle 1-3 r-2 rbi-2, Kasen Muscha 1-1 r, Wyatt Mohr 2-4 2b r rbi-3 bb, Matthew Hornstein 1-2 r rbi hbp, Jaxon Schoenrock 1-3 r rbi, Carter Simonson 1-1 rbi bb, Brady Swendsrud 1-2 r-3 rbi bb-2, Spencer Schmidt 1-2 r rbi-2, Nicholas Levasseur 1-2 2b r rbi, Cameron Simon 0-2 r, Jordan Kuhnau 0-1 r bb, Caleb Gimbel 0-2 r, Cole Vatsndal 0-2 rbi, Augie Gulbranson 0-3 r-2 rbi, Max Hess 0-0 r bb … Willmar: Dylan Staska 1-3, Jordan Ellingson 0-3 hbp
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Alexandria: Schoenrock 2-1-0-0-2-6, Levasseur (W) 2-0-0-0-2-2, Hornstein 1-0-0-0-1-1 … Willmar: Jaydon Garnhardt (L) 1-6-7-5-3-1, Ellingson 2-2-3-0-1-2, Mattix Swanson 1-2-6-0-1-1, Cullen Gregory 1-2-4-2-2-1