Chanda Cunniff was an all-conference pitcher for the Alexandria Cardinals fast-pitch softball team last season.
Based on her last two performances against the Brainerd Warriors, Cunniff is headed for all-conference distinction again this spring.
On May 15, the senior right-hander twirled a four-hitter in an 11-2 Alexandria win. Wednesday at Adamson Field, she fired a five-hitter as the fourth-seeded Cardinals scored a 5-1 win over the third-seeded Warriors in the opening round of the North Subsection 8AA tournament.
Brainerd was scheduled to play in the losers' bracket at 5 p.m. today at home against No. 6 Fergus Falls. The Otters crushed No. 7 Moorhead 17-0 Wednesday before losing 12-2 to top-seeded Detroit Lakes.
Cunniff struck out five and walked three. She retired the first 10 Warriors in order before issuing a one-out walk in the fourth to Sacha Holbrook.
"Chanda was around the plate," Alexandria coach Orin Schueler said. "She walked a couple and Brainerd took advantage in that one inning when they got a nice hit."
That inning was the fifth when the Warriors pushed across their only run. With one out, Cunniff walked Jackie Byrne, who stole second. Cunniff struck out Sarah Johnson before walking Lisa Gorron. A wild pitch moved Byrne and Gorron into scoring position. Byrne scored on Jackie Sullivan's single to center. Gorron was thrown out on the back end of a double steal to end the inning.
"We executed that first and third play real nice," Schueler said. "That helped us deflate their rally there a little bit. We cut the ball off and threw the girl out at the plate. That was a big play for our kids."
The Cardinals made other big plays. Right fielder Angie Elbert recorded assists when she scooped up ground balls and threw out two Warriors at first base following apparent singles.
"That hasn't happened to us all year," Warriors coach Mike Zauhar said.
Warriors junior right-hander Laura Clemens pitched respectably. She allowed seven hits and no earned runs, struck out two and walked two. She was victimized by four errors.
"I thought Laura threw a real nice game," Zauhar said. "She was hurting a little bit at the end there. She pulled a muscle, but she gutted it out. She's just a real trooper."
Alexandria trooped to a 1-0 lead in the first. With two out, Amber Malvin singled to left and wound up scoring on a throwing error.
The Cardinals added two runs in the third on a single by Michelle Verant, two errors and an RBI groundout by Nancy Mulder.
"This team can be a very good team when we play good defense, when we catch the ball and throw the ball," Zauhar said. "We can look pretty bad when we don't. You don't give a team that's fundamentally sound as Alexandria three runs early like that. Then it's an uphill battle, when their pitcher is throwing pretty good, and they're making some plays."
In the sixth, Alexandria surged in front by the final score on a walk, error, single by Sarah Lanigan, a bases-loaded walk by Clemens and an RBI single by Mulder.
North notes: The subsection is in a state of flux. The game between second-seeded Bemidji and fifth-seeded Thief River Falls was suspended by rain in the fifth inning Wednesday with TRF leading 3-2.
This afternoon, Alexandria was supposed to play the winner, either at home or at Bemidji. Also today, the TRF/Bemidji loser was supposed to play at top-seeded Detroit Lakes.
Alexandria 120 002 0 -- 5 7 0
Brainerd 000 010 0 -- 1 5 4
Alexandria -- Chanda Cunniff and Sarah Lanigan; Brainerd -- Laura Clemens and Sacha Holbrook. W -- Cunniff. L -- Clemens.
SB -- B, Jackie Byrne, Jackie Sullivan. Sac -- A, Ashley Staples. RBI -- A, Nancy Mulder 2, Laura Johnson; B, Sullivan.
Overall -- Alex 9-12, B 11-10. Next game -- Fergus Falls at Brainerd in North Subsection 8AA second round 5 p.m. today.
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