Bemidji outlasts Morris 11-9 to advance in winners' bracket play
State tournament openers can be grueling to the players, coaches and fans and it is not unusual for a team to have a sub-par performance when the pressure of the tournament is at hand.
"We were nervous. I was nervous," admitted Bemidji VFW baseball coach Brad Johnson after Thursday's state opener against Morris.
Bemidji was not at peak efficiency Thursday but still managed to outlast Morris 11-9 in the first round of the state tournament played at the Bemidji State University diamond.
The reward was a berth in today's winner's-bracket semifinals and a noon match-up against Winona. In Thursday's action Winona defeated RanView 6-3 and then nipped Eagan 2-1.
The Vets never trailed Thursday but they also never owned a comfortable lead, despite forging a 5-1 advantage after two innings and an 11-5 cushion heading into Morris' final at-bat.
"The best part of coaching this age group and playing in the state tournament is that a team is never too far behind or too far ahead," Johnson said. "You will never see any team or any player in this tournament quit."
Morris certainly didn't throw in the towel, not even after Bemidji scored six runs in the top of the sixth to snap a 5-5 tie and take an 11-5 lead.
After being blanked by VFW reliever Drew Peterson in the sixth inning the District 5 champion began its seventh inning with a walk. Before long it had four runs on the board and the tying runs at second and third with two down.
Peterson escaped further damage, however, when he recorded a strikeout to end the game.
The Vets had 10 hits but committed three errors. Ryan Hirt, who started on the Bemidji mound, walked two and yielded six hits in five innings of work but often found himself behind in the count and facing the prospect of having to throw a perfect pitch to get out of a jam.
Peterson finished with two walks, four strikeouts and two hits allowed.
"We didn't play our best baseball," Johnson said. "We normally don't walk four and have three errors. You can't give teams in this tournament any free bases or extra chances. You can't walk people and you must give them only 21 outs."
While defensive miscues hampered Bemidji, the inability to consistently make the play was fatal to Morris. Only four VFW runs were earned because of the five errors.
A wild throw, a dropped pop-up and Morris' inability to catch an infield relay gave Bemidji two runs in the first inning while another error in the second following Drew Peterson's solo home run to left helped the VFW score three runs and open a 5-1 advantage.
Bemidji's offense then went silent while Morris evened the score with two runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Morris smacked five hits in those two frames and also profited from two costly walks in the fourth and an infield boot in the fifth.
The tide turned in the sixth inning as the VFW scored six runs to regain the momentum.
Mitch Buckanaga reached when his pop-up behind first fell among three defenders for an error. Adam Lewis walked and Nick Hovila plated both runners with a towering double to left-center.
After a passed ball Mark Fenner walked and an out later Connor McNallan plated Hovila with a soft single to center.
With two outs Peterson kept the rally going with a 2-run triple to center and Cody Labernick capped the stanza with an RBI single to center.
"We would like to be more consistent on offense," Johnson said. "I'd rather put up a crooked number (more than one run) each inning than to score two in one inning, three in another and then go three innings without any runs.
"I think that inconsistency was because of nerves," the coach continued. "I'd be shocked if we play the same way (Friday). If we do make a mistake we can't let it linger. We want to play better baseball and have some fun.
"But the good thing about Thursday was that even though we didn't play our best we found a way to win."
Peterson paced the offense with a home run and a triple. Labernick contributed a pair of singles while Hovila had a double and a single.
In Thursday's morning games Winona defeated RanView 6-3 and Perham thumped Elk River 7-1.
Grand Rapids advanced with a 4-2 victory over Little Falls. Luverne faced Perham in Thursday's late game and that winner will meet Grand Rapids 2:30 p.m. today at BSU.
In Thursday's loser's bracket games Elk River eliminated Morris 4-2 while RanView faced Little Falls in the late game.
VFW State Tournament
Winona 6, RanView 3
Perham 7, Elk River 1
Bemidji 11, Morris 9
Grand Rapids 4, Little Falls 2
Winona 2, Eagan 1
Luverne vs. Perham, late
Elk River 4, Morris 2 (Morris eliminated)
RanView vs. Little Falls, late (loser eliminated)
Bemidji 11, Morris 9
Bemidji 230 006 0 - 11 10 3
Morris 100 220 4 - 9 8 5
Hirt (W), Peterson (6) and Buckanaga. K-12, BB-4
Torgerson, Erickson 5) (L) and Picht. K-4, BB-5
At BSU, Prep North
Game 9: Elk River vs. Eagan, 9:30 a.m. (Prep North), loser eliminated
Game 10: Little Falls-RanView winner vs. Luverne-Perham loser, 9:30 a.m. (BSU), loser eliminated
Game 11: Bemidji vs. Winona, noon, (BSU)
Game 12: Grand Rapids vs. Luverne-Perham winner, 2:30 p.m. (BSU)
Game 13: Game 11 loser vs. Game 10 winner, 5 p.m. (BSU), loser eliminated
Game 14: Game 12 loser vs. Game 9 winner, 7:30 p.m. (BSU), loser eliminated
Game 15: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 1 p.m., winner advances to championship series
Game 16: Game 13 winner vs. Game 14 winner, 4 p.m., loser eliminated
Game 17: Game 15 loser vs. Game 16 winner, 7 p.m., loser eliminated
Sunday's Championship Games
Game 18: Game 15 winner vs. Game 17 winner, noon
Game 19: Repeat of Game 18, if necessary