The Alexandria Angels are atop the South Dakota baseball mountain again.
After a one-year hiatus, Alexandria captured another Class B state amateur baseball championship on Sunday. The Angels -- who have now won four titles in the past seven seasons -- edged Garretson 2-0 in front of a Halo-packed Cadwell Park.
“The feeling never gets old,” Alexandria second baseman Cole Wenande said. “It definitely feels good to be back on top. It’s just a special year for us to comeback after last year and get to where we are now.”
After falling to Flandreau in last year’s quarterfinals, the Angels (20-6) began this season with a 1-4 record and took a while to get back on track. But Alexandria punctuated the 2019 season on Sunday with another title.
“No. 4 but maybe the most special because I don’t think people came into the year -- or halfway through the season -- expected it from us,” said Alexandria catcher/manager Chris Marek, who was named MVP of the tournament. “We started 1-4 and I don’t know if people wrote us off or whatever, but to have that kind of start and to work our way back and really prove where we belong, makes it really special.”
On Sunday, the Angels authored another chapter in their amateur baseball dynasty. Alexandria’s Tyson Gau and Garretson’s Derek Fischer locked horns for a pitchers’ duel as runs were in great demand.
“We knew runs would be at a premium,” said Alexandria’s Peyton Smith, who had two hits. “Especially with Derek Fischer on the mound. He’s an excellent pitcher. Garretson gave up three runs all tournament and we scored two of them in the championship.
Gau pitched another masterpiece and kept Garretson -- which outscored opponents 37-1 in the four previous tournament games -- without a run on Sunday. Gau scattered five hits and struck out eight batters in 111 pitches. Fischer was just as good. He allowed nine hits, struck out seven batters and surrendered one earned run in 111 pitches.
“We knew it would be a pitchers’ duel,” Marek said. “We had two of the better pitchers in the entire state going at it for a state championship on rest. You don’t see that a lot of times in a championship game.”
Both pitchers hummed along through the first four innings, but Alexandria broke through in the fifth inning. Peyton Smith led off the inning with a single and Wenande moved him over to second base on a sacrifice fly. In the next at-bat, Gau hit a ground ball and second baseman Jesse Brockhouse had a fielding error, allowing Smith to score the first run.
The game remained scoreless, but the Angels had another opportunity in the seventh to tack on runs. However, a baserunning blunder initiated by Garretson (16-3) cost Alexandria a chance to possibly add runs. Smith reached first base on a fielding error by Garretson shortstop Brett Fischer, while Wenande later reached on an error by Derek Fischer. With runners on first and third, Gau stepped to the plate with one out.
Wenande safely stole second base, but a Garretson infielder nearby told him the ball went foul. With the ball still in play, Wenande trotted back to first base and got caught in a rundown, while Smith ran from third to home. However, Garretson threw the ball to the opposite end of the infield and tagged out Smith on the play.
Gau then struck out swinging for the third out, but responded by retiring the side in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“As you could tell I was probably throwing a little harder after the seventh inning,” Gau said. “That definitely got me fired up and I felt like I was more amped up on the mound after that happened.”
Then in the top of the ninth, Wenande made up for it. Reid Smith hit a lead-off single and Jerrod Zens moved him over on a sac bunt. Peyton Smith advanced Reid Smith to third base with a single, which brought up Wenande. Wenande smacked a sacrifice fly to left field and Reid Smith tagged up for an insurance run and a 2-0 lead.
“In that AB, I am just looking for a pitch to hit and trying to find barrel and drive one into the outfield,” Wenande said. “That’s what we got.”
It was just the cushion Gau needed to complete the win.
“That gave me a lot more push in that last inning,” Gau said. “Reid got me going. Cole kind of had a slower game and I knew he would deliver. He got a pitch to drive and what a great at-bat just to get that sac fly in there for us.”
Gau retired three of four batters in the ninth, including striking out Garretson’s Austin VanHove for the final out, setting off another dogpile and another state championship.
“It’s the best one yet,” Peyton Smith said. “It doesn’t ever get old. We started out the season 1-4 and we were all saying we need to stick together. That was the main focus and I guess we did that. It’s been a fun ride.”