The Alexandria Angels had their backs against the wall, but one swing of the bat changed everything.
Chris Marek crushed a grand slam to put an exclamation point on a six-run, seventh inning and the Angels knocked off Sunshine League foe Winner/Colome 7-3 at Cadwell Park on Saturday.
Alexandria (19-6) will play Garretson or Canova at 2 p.m. on Sunday in the Class B state championship game.
On Saturday, the Angels went hitless through four straight innings as Connor Hopkins kept their bats in check and the Pheasants pulled ahead, 3-1. However, Alexandria’s bats came alive in the seventh inning and Marek’s grand slam over the 340-foot left field fence capped off the frame.
“It feels awesome to come up with a hit like that and in a time that we need it,” said Marek, who finished 3-for-5 and also belted a solo home run in the second inning.
With the 7-3 lead in hand, the Angels brought in two-time state tourney MVP and Parkston pick-up player Brady Nolz to close things out for starter Trever Vermeulen. Nolz gave up one hit and pitched three scoreless innings in relief.
“Brady was Brady,” Marek said. “Brady might have been better today than he was the other day (Thursday against Milbank) and that’s saying a lot because Brady was really good.”
Vermeulen fanned four batters, scattered five hits and allowed three earned runs through six innings to earn the win. But admitted: “I didn’t feel like I had any of my stuff today. But I tried to give them all I could. We got to the point where Brady was the guy.”
Winner/Colome (18-5) scored all three of its runs in the fourth inning, which was started with a Dillon Lambley solo shot over the left field fence. Kelly O’Bryan added an RBI single and Reed Harter was plunked by Vermeulen with the bases loaded to bring in another run.
“That’s a team that doesn’t quit,” Vermeulen said. “They aren’t going to go away and we turned it on there in the seventh.”
After two scoreless innings, the Angels swung the momentum back to their side in the seventh inning. Jerrod Zens smacked a lead-off single and Peyton Smith’s RBI triple made it 3-2. Jordan Gau plated Smith after dropping a shot into shallow center field, which also loaded the bases.
“We struggled today a little bit getting a hit when we had guys on,” Marek said. “We left 10 and that’s probably -- if you want to critique the game -- that was probably our downfall, leaving a few guys on. We put it together. We put hits together and hitting is contagious.”
Marek caught the hitting bug and turned on Hopkins’ first pitch fastball for the monster shot.
“I was looking for something straight -- a fastball,” Marek said. “I got a fastball and really just took the approach to get the ball up in the air, get in the outfield and drive in a single run. Luckily I got enough of it to carry it out of the field.”
The shot spelled the beginning of the end for the Pheasants.
“Two big innings,” Winner/Colome manager Kevin Graesser said. “We had a big inning. They had a bigger inning. We did all we could, I think.”
Hopkins took the loss, but he held Alexandria in check until the seventh inning. Hopkins struck out five batters, scattered nine hits and allowed seven earned runs in eight innings.
“That’s what we had to get out of Connor,” Graesser said. “Unfortunately the one inning there, but that’s baseball.”
It capped off a nice tourney run for Winner/Colome, which strung together five straight wins after falling to Wagner in the opening round of the District 5B tournament.
“They compete,” Graesser said about the Pheasants. “We have a veteran group. We have some young, energetic guys. It makes a good combination. They always compete.”
Up next, the Angels will play in their sixth state championship game in the past seven seasons. Alexandria has won state titles in 2013, 2016 and 2017.
“It’s Championship Sunday,” Marek said. “We are ready to go. It’s a goal every year, not just to get there, but to win it. That’s our mindset. We are going to come in ready to play.”