BASEBALL: Back in NSIC tournament for first time since 2008, Bemidji State riding high
BEMIDJI — For a short time Sunday afternoon, Trevor Purvis and the rest of his Bemidji State teammates had their eyes glued to a game they couldn’t watch.
The Beavers had just been swept in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference doubleheader by league-leaders St. Cloud State and needed a positive result in the Winona State-Sioux Falls game to extend their season.
“It was weird,” said Purvis, BSU’s senior outfielder. “Toward the end of that second game guys were asking about scores and stuff.”
By the time their game was over — BSU lost to St. Cloud State 6-3 — the Beavers were huddled around their phones, keeping an eye on live stats and Twitter and knowing a Winona State win over Sioux Falls would give them their first NSIC tournament berth since 2008.
“After we lost things were really uncertain. We were kind of biting our nails there for a while,” BSU shortstop Lewis Baumann said.
Winona, already in the playoffs, led Sioux Falls 9-5 going into the bottom of the ninth. Following what happened next, Purvis said, was agonizing.
The Cougars scored an unearned run with nobody out to make it 9-6. The Warriors got two quick outs but Sioux Falls made it interesting with a two-run home run with two outs to cut WSU’s lead to one.
The Warriors finally managed to get the last out. When they did, the Beavers erupted.
“We were just hoping they got that last out,” Purvis said. “When they finally did there was a lot of excitement. We were all pretty happy. We didn’t want that to be our last game and didn’t want to go out like that.”
BSU finished 13-13 in conference play and USF 14-14 but the Beavers made the NSIC tournament by winning the tiebreak (BSU beat St. Cloud once this season while USF did not).
They’ll make the tournament as the No. 8 seed and will take on top-seeded St. Cloud State at 11 a.m. today in a first round game at Faber Field in St. Cloud.
The winner will take on either Winona State or Concordia-St. Paul at 2 p.m. Thursday at Faber Field. The loser will take on the loser of the Winona/Concordia game in an elimination contest at 7 p.m.
“The kids are excited,” BSU head coach Tim Bellew said. “I’m excited. These kids have worked awfully hard for this.
“These seniors have done so many good things so I’m so glad for these guys that we finally made it back.”
The Beavers were eliminated from postseason play on the last day of the regular season last year.
This time, the team that led the NSIC in hitting (.330) and was near the top in both ERA (4.15) and fielding percentage (.970) wasn’t about to be turned away.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Baumann, who is third in the NSIC in hitting at .397 and fourth in slugging. “We’ve been trying to get in for four years. A lot of teams in our conference don’t get the opportunity to keep playing. We’re fortunate enough to do it so we’re hoping to make the most of our opportunity.”
One catch: The Beavers have to play St. Cloud State for the fifth straight game.
The Huskies finished the season 31-7 overall and 19-3 in NSIC play to take the regular-season league title.
They’re among the league leaders in nearly every statistical category as a team and have an unheard-of at the college ranks 2.04 team ERA.
Despite all that, BSU has plenty of confidence going into today’s game. The Beavers hung with the Huskies in three of the four games this weekend.
“The thought is that we kind of snuck in, but we know we have guys that can play,” Purvis said. “They threw their best two pitchers at us and didn’t shut us down by any means. I think whoever they throw out there; we know we have a chance to beat them. We can compete with them, we can compete with anyone in the league.”
The Beavers beat St. Cloud on Friday behind Phil Bray’s complete-game four-hitter. On Sunday they held a slim 4-3 lead for much of the game but allowed the winning run in the top of the ninth.
Bray, a lefty, is scheduled to start today’s game against the Huskies. Corey Fitzgerald is the scheduled starter for St. Cloud State.
Fitzgerald was the pitcher of record in the second game of Friday’s doubleheader. The Huskies won the game 8-1.
“We deserve to be there. You look at the numbers we’ve put up, and we’re definitely a very good eight seed,” Bellew said. “St. Cloud is a great program, but make no mistake about it, we’re not afraid to go play them.”
NOTE: After helping guide the Beavers back to the NSIC tournament, Bellew was named the NSIC’s Coach of the Year this week.
Bellew, in his eighth year at BSU, is the second Beaver coach to win the award.
Former head coach Jim Grimm was honored as coach of the year in 1997 and 2002.
The league also honored other Beaver players with awards.
Baumann and pitcher/designated hitter Logan Kalis, both seniors, were named to the All-NSIC first team, while Purvis and catcher Zach Braun were named to the All-NSIC second team.
Second baseman Jack Hegarty was named to the conference’s Gold Glove team.