A year ago the Bemidji baseball team traveled a precarious journey on way to the Section 8-3A title. After losing in the winner's bracket final the Lumberjacks needed to survive three lose-and-go-home games to claim the championship.
In 2011 BHS proved that coming through the loser's bracket to win a section title is possible. But the Jacks also learned that arriving at that destination is much easier if you don't have to go through the back door.
Saturday in St. Cloud Bemidji was able to avoid having to play those extra games, but just barely. In the section semifinals BHS needed 10 innings to edge St. Michael-Albertville 3-2. In the winner's-bracket final Bemidji broke a 2-2 tie with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth and went on to trip Rocori 4-2.
Those wins vaulted the Lumberjacks into today's 2 p.m. 8-3A championship game against the winner of today's 11 a.m. elimination battle between St. Cloud Apollo and Rocori.
If Bemidji wins today it will make a second straight trip to the state tournament. If the Jacks (22-1) fall, they will return to St. Cloud 7 p.m. Wednesday for a rematch.
"Saturday's results proved that we have some very good teams in the section," said Bemidji coach Mike Fogelson. "All of the games were tight and that is what everyone expected. After all, we are in the playoffs."
St. Cloud Apollo is the second seed in 8-3A but the Eagles are fortunate to still be in the chase.
Rocori, the third seed, downed St. Cloud Apollo 4-1 in the semifinals and St. Michael-Albertville took a 3-0 lead over the Eagles in an elimination game before Apollo rallied late for a 6-3 victory.
"Every playoff game is a battle," Fogelson said. "On Saturday we pitched very well and in the win over Rocori our defense was very good. Hopefully we will have our hitting return to where it was coming into the playoffs.
"But we are in the section championship game and that is where we wanted to be," the coach continued. "Now we need to finish the job."
In the victory over St. Michael-Albertville BHS had 13 hits but the offense produced only three runs in 10 innings.
"We pounded the ball but we couldn't get the one hit we needed," Fogelson said. "If everybody, one through nine in the lineup, had one more quality at-bat we would have made things much easier on ourselves."
Those same hitters will be in today's lineup although Fogelson is still debating his pitching rotation. Ryan Hirt, who went nine innings and took a no-decision in the victory over St. Michael-Albertville, will probably be saved for Wednesday. Everyone else on the staff, however, is included in today's pitching plans.
Offensively Bemidji will go with Nick Hovila, Mitchell Hendricks, Cody Rutledge, Collin Leif, Cody Jenkins, Mason Bellew, Nick Conner, Sam Dwyer and Connor McNallan.
The Bemidji track and field athletes will begin their quests for state-meet success Friday morning and the first to compete will be Brady Schmidt in the 100.
Schmidt will hit the starting line, along with the other first-heat runners, at 10:14 a.m. Friday. The top two runners in each of the three heats, plus the next three fastest runners, will advance to Saturday's 100 finals.
The other Lumberjacks representative in the boys competition, the 4x800 relay, will have Friday off.
The quartet of Scott Hulsebus, Sam Carlson, Gunnar Nelson and Elias Hendrickson will compete at 9:25 a.m. and will try to duplicate the performance of former teammates Jake Urban, Isak Sommer, John Buckanaga and Alex Schoneberger who won the state 4x800 championship last year in 7:49.15.
At Saturday's 8-2A meet Bemidji placed second in 8:01.35. That time ranks 13th among the 16 teams which qualified for the state meet.
Schmidt enters the 100 ranked near the bottom of the 24-runner field with a seeding time of 11.50 but during Saturday's section race the junior lost time right away with a poor start. Despite the tough start, however, he was able to finish second and earn a berth in the state field.
Representing the BHS girls program will be Maea Wall, Allie Heifort, Jenna Truedson and the 4x400 relay unit.
Wall is seeded 12th in her 16-girl 400 race with a time of 59.32. In the long jump, however, her section distance of 17-10.75 ranks second among the state field. Only Nadia Lorencz of Farmington bettered that effort in the section meets as she sailed 17-11.25.
Heifort is seeded 12th in the shot put at 38-11.25 and fifth in the discus at 136.3.
Truedson's section time of 5:08.43 in the mile ranks 10th among the 16 state qualifiers.
The 4x400 relay team of Amy Carey, Megan Serratore, Truedson and Wall won the section with a time of 3:59.21 and that effort ranks fourth in the state field. With a time of 3:57.06, Prior Lake is the favorite and Bemidji will run alongside Prior Lake in Friday's preliminaries.