ST CLOUD - Aaron Nissen had a successful debut with the Bemidji Legion baseball team as the right-hander from Blackduck tossed a complete game and helped Bemidji stop Rochester 9-6 Saturday in its final outing of the St. Cloud Invitational.
Bemidji finished 4-0 in the three-day event and will be one of two teams to go unbeaten in the round-robin tournament. Late Saturday Maple Grove and Sauk Centre squared off and both teams were 3-0 heading into the contest.
"We won four games and we're pretty pleased," said Legion coach Mike Fogelson. "Hopefully we can keep it going."
The Legion played the weekend tournament shorthanded because of players in the Lions All-Star series, injury and other reasons. In Saturday's game Bemidji was without the services of first baseman Mason Bellew (injured), Mitchell Hendricks (at a wedding), Collin Leif (All-Star game) and Cody Rutledge (All-Star game).
Bellew was struck above the eye with a thrown ball Friday and was unavailable for the tournament. It is hoped that he will be healed in time to play Tuesday at Little Falls.
"With so many guys missing there were opportunities for the others and they all came through," Fogelson said.
Nissen is among the newcomers and, except for the fifth inning when Rochester scored five runs, the ace of the Blackduck High School pitching staff was in complete control.
"I'm sure Aaron was a little nervous because this was his first start with his new team but he also was pretty stoked to pitch," Fogelson said. "And he did very well. Only two of the runs he gave up were earned."
Saturday's hitting hero was Nick Hovila who ripped a pair of home runs to left field.
The Legion used walks to Hovila, Sam Dwyer and Connor McNallan, and Nick Conner's ground ball to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.
In the second stanza Mitch Buckanaga singled, Dom Hayle doubled and Hovila blasted his first round-tripper of the day.
Rochester touched Nissen for a run in the third but Bemidji answered with three in the fifth. Cody Jenkins singled to begin the rally and, after Conner walked and Zach Solheim singled to fill the bases, Ryan Hirt singled home the lead runner. Hovila coaxed a walk to force in Conner and Solheim scored courtesy of a wild pitch.
An error helped Rochester score five runs in the home half of the inning to draw within 7-6 but the Legion bounced back with a run in the sixth as Jenkins singled, gained second on a wild pitch and Solheim doubled him home.
Hovila capped the scoring in the seventh with his second home run of the game.
A busy week for the Legion begins Tuesday with a doubleheader at Little Falls. On Thursday Bemidji will host Perham in a twinbill and Friday the team will travel to Grand Forks for two games.
Legion 130 031 1 - 9 9 3
Rochester 001 050 0 - 6 8 2
Nissen (W) and Buckanaga. K-3, BB-3
Wasz (L) and Whitten. K-8, BB-8