Bemidji baseball team making 19th state appearance and Target Field is the goal
When the Bemidji baseball team takes the field 10 a.m. today at Midway Stadium in St. Paul the program will be making state tournament history with its 19th appearance, joining New Ulm, Austin and Cretin as the only schools to reach that figure.
While excited to be representing the latest BHS team at state, the players are heading to the Twin Cities on a mission.
"None of us are satisfied with just being there," said Bemidji first baseman Mason Bellew. "Since the first day of practice in the gym our goal has been to make it to Target Field. And that continues to be our goal."
In order to play at Target Field the Jacks will have to advance to Tuesday's 6 p.m. Class 3A championship game. The initial obstacle in the road is Section 3 champion Burnsville which enters today's opening-round game with a 21-3 record.
Bemidji, which came through the loser's bracket to capture the Section 8-3A crown, is 18-9.
If the Lumberjacks defeat Burnsville today they will face either Rochester Century (20-6) or Eden Prairie (21-4) noon Friday in the championship semifinals.
A loss today would drop BHS into the consolation round and a 10 a.m. game at Dick Siebert Field on the University of Minnesota campus.
Bemidji will be the underdog today but that doesn't bother the Lumberjacks.
"Every team in the tournament is good but we've come together and I think we have as good a shot as anybody to take it," said outfielder Cody Rutledge. "After the doubleheader at Moorhead when we lost both games (4-3 and 6-3) some people gave up on us but the players rallied together.
"We knew we were a better team than we put out on the field that day. And now we are showing how good we can be."
"The Moorhead series was the fork in the road for us," said Bemidji head coach Mike Fogelson. "I'll be honest. On the bus ride home from that doubleheader the coaches were concerned. But the good thing was that we were playing the next day at St. Cloud Apollo because we were able to get back on the field right away."
The Jacks made the most of that opportunity as they dismantled Apollo 7-1 to close the regular season. The victory provided the spark which carried through the section tournament and, hopefully, into the state.
"We played one of our better games of the year against Apollo," Fogelson said. "And we've been playing very well since."
Prior to the section tournament Fogelson said that any team could win it because the teams were almost equal in ability. Among the candidates was Big Lake which was seeded second.
Bemidji, the seventh seed, faced Big Lake in the second round and trailed 6-1 early in the contest. But the Jacks rallied in the final few innings and kept their tournament hopes alive with an 8-7 win.
"I still look at that game as the big turning point," Fogelson said. "If we don't come back and win that game many teams in the section could be talking about being at the state meet.
"I look at the state like I did the section," the coach continued. "We know that any team from the Metro will be favored over any team from the North. But Burnsville puts its uniform on the same way we do. There are eight quality teams in the tournament and our job is to control what we can control and play our best baseball."
Dom Hayle, who has worked his way into the starting role in left field, believes the Jacks will pick up where they left off.
"I'm excited, very excited to get to work at the state tournament," he said. "We're heading into state with confidence. If we hit the way we have been I believe we can go far into the tournament."
Exactly how far remains to be seen but right fielder Cody Jenkins thinks a game at Target Field is not out of the question.
"At the end of the regular season our team came together and now we are playing at a high level," he said. "I think we can go all the way. We won the state last year with the VFW and I think we can do it again with the high school team."
Fogelson plans no lineup changes for today's game. Zach Solheim (.354 batting average) will start on the mound and will bring a team-high 7-2 record into the start. Collin Leif (.468) will catch and the expected infield will include Bellew (.271) at first, Jeremiah Graves (.208) at second, Tyler Follis (.362) at short and Mitchell Hendricks (.375) at third.
The outfield is expected to include Hayle (.207) in left, Rutledge (.333) in center and Jenkins (.349) in right.
Also expected to see duty is Sam Dwyer (.171).
Class 3-A State Tournament
Thursday's Opening Round
Midway Stadium, St. Paul
Game 1: Bemidji (18-9) vs. Burnsville (21-3), 10 a.m.
Game 2: Rochester Century (20-6) vs. Eden Prairie (21-4), 12:30 p.m.
Game 3: Maple Grove (24-1) vs. Bloomington Kennedy (12-13), 3 p.m.
Game 4: Stillwater (19-5) vs. Forest Lake (20-6), 5:30 p.m.
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, noon
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 2:30 p.m.
Third Place Game
Game 7: Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 5 p.m.
Dick Siebert Field, U of M
Game 8: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 9: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 12:30 p.m.
Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 3 p.m.
June 21 Championship
Game 11: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 6 p.m.