Bemidji softball team fends off jitters to beat Monticello in section tournament
The opening game of the playoffs is always nerve racking, especially for the higher-seeded team.
When a loss means the end of the softball season it can be difficult for a team perform at peak efficiency, at least during the first few innings.
Bemidji was bitten by the playoff bug early in Wednesday's playoff opener at home against Monticello but the offense finally came to life in the second inning. Once the floodgate was open, BHS continued that offensive explosion the rest of the way and the third-seeded Jacks eventually cruised to a 14-4 win over No. 6 Monticello.
"We were tight at the start," said Bemidji coach Brad Takkunen whose team will hit the road Monday for the Section 8-3A final four.
Monday's probable destination will be Brainerd as the Warriors entered the tournament as the top seed and were favored to win their opening game Wednesday against either No. 8 Sartell or No. 9 Sauk Rapids.
Takkunen was pleased with the way his troops came to life Wednesday after the slow start.
"We didn't play very well defensively in the early innings and I thought that might be the case," the coach said. "But we eventually got the bats going and once we ripped a few hits we started to relax."
Monticello, which eliminated Moorhead 12-2 earlier Wednesday to earn its shot against the Jacks, took advantage of an infield error to score a run in the first inning. Another Bemidji boot helped the Magic plate two more in the upper second and take a 3-0 lead.
The Lumberjacks were retired without incident in the first stanza but the tide began to turn in the second.
Hanna Olson started the transformation with a single to left and Jest Yost followed with a single to center. A throwing error on the play advanced the runners to second and third and both scored a few pitches later when Kellie Morehouse's drive to deep center tipped off the fielder's glove.
A ground ball moved Morehouse to third where she was in position to score courtesy of Laura Clark's grounder.
The visitors regained a 4-3 lead in the upper third on the strength of two doubles but BHS pitcher Jess Yost held the Magic at bay the rest of the way.
Bemidji's offense continued to attack in the home half of the third as five hits and an error helped the Jacks score six runs.
Jineane Williams started the rally with a solid single to center and before Monticello knew what had hit them Hanna Olson, Yost and Anna Pence singled, Morehouse delivered another sacrifice fly and Summer Monsrud belted a two-run triple to center.
"All the way through the lineup we were hitting shots down the line and in the gaps," Takkunen said. "Those repeated extra-base hits had to have taken the life out of Monticello.
"We didn't respond to the challenge right away and Monticello took the early lead. But our bats started to produce, set the tone and we got things rolling."
Doubles by Jineane Williams, Janelle Williams and Pence produced three runs in the fourth and Bemidji ended the game via the 10-run rule in the fifth inning when Clark singled, Monsrud had a bunt single, Taylor McLean walked to load the bases, Jineane Williams had an RBI single and a wild pitch plated the final run.
Bemidji likely will face second-seeded Elk River at noon Monday in its double-elimination final four opener. Win or lose the Jacks will also play at 2 p.m. Monday.
"I hope the worst of the jitters are past us," Takkunen said. "Monday's games will be tougher but if we settle down, not beat ourselves and play like we know we can, we'll be fine."
Monticello 121 00 - 4 4 4
Bemidji 036 32 - 14 14 3
Yohnke (L), Dockendorf (4) and Watson, K-1, BB-3
Yost (W) and Clark. K-2, BB-2