Bemidji baseball team playing at their best heading into state tourney
The high school Class 3-A state tournament will officially begin 10 a.m. Thursday at Midway Stadium when Bemidji will take on Burnsville.
The Lumberjacks were the seventh seed in Section 8-3A and battled through the loser's bracket to win their final three games and capture the title.
Burnsville had an easier time as the top-seeded Blaze swept the Section 3 field and capped their road to the championship with a 10-0 victory over No. 2 Eastview.
Bemidji will take an 18-9 record into its opener while Burnsville is 21-3.
Thursday's other upper-bracket match-up pits Rochester Century (20-6) against Eden Prairie (21-4). Both of those teams were top seeds in their sections.
The lower bracket has a surprise team in the field as Bloomington Kennedy won Section 6 despite being seeded 10th. Kennedy ran the table in its tournament as it defeated No. 7 Minneapolis South 8-1, No. 2 Benilde 14-4, No. 11 Minneapolis Southwest 11-3, No. 1 Robbinsdale Armstrong 7-4 and No. 4 Hopkins 25-7.
Despite the five section victories Kennedy is still under .500 for the year at 12-13. Kennedy's next challenge is to get by Maple Grove which owns a 24-1 record.
Thursday's other state opener pits Forest Lake (20-6) against Stillwater (19-5).
Bemidji's journey through the Section 8 loser's bracket added to its overall accomplishment, according to senior Ryan Stevens who helped the Jacks begin their comeback by earning the pitching victory in the 11-6 win over Sauk Rapids.
"Coming through the loser's bracket was cool," he said. "We had to beat Sauk Rapids and then had to beat Alexandria twice. We had to prove that we were the better team."
Once the win over Sauk Rapids was in hand, the next obstacle was Alexandria. Jeremiah Graves, who made only one pitching start all season, was given the task of shutting down the Cardinals and he did exactly that as BHS cruised to a 14-1 triumph.
"We had nothing to lose going into that game," Graves recalled. "Alexandria had all the momentum and all the pressure.
"Earlier in the season Alexandria had us down and I came in to pitch. We weathered that storm when they had trouble with the junk I was throwing so (the coaches) had the idea of trying it again. And the idea worked out pretty well."
In the championship game Bemidji's bats dominated early with four runs in the first three innings and Zach Solheim made those runs stand up in a 4-1 victory.
"That was a great team win," said senior pitcher Kris Berndt. "Zach did a great job on the mound.
"I didn't get into any games during the playoffs but my job is to put my heart into it when I do get to pitch. Going to state has made everything we've gone through worth it. I went to the VFW state tournament in 2009 but this is going to be even better because we are representing our school, our town and pretty much all of northern Minnesota."
Infielder Mitchell Hendricks also has state experience as he has quarterbacked the Lumberjacks football team into the state playoffs the past two years.
"But this feels a little bigger because we had to win six games to get to state," the junior said. "It's nice to have a week off and let (the accomplishment) sink in. This week we will focus on what we have to do and get ready to play one of the best teams in the state
"But we are playing our best baseball of the season right now and we know that we can play with anybody," Hendricks added.
"Everybody talks about peaking at the right time but that's not easy to do," said coach Mike Fogelson. "Our kids did it. They never gave up in the section tournament and that was the key. We played steady ball during all six games," Fogelson added.
"And we're not done yet," Graves said. "We are going into the state tournament as an underdog but the confidence we had against Alexandria is still with us. Our goal at the start of the year was to get to the state championship game at Target Field and that goal has not changed."
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.