The Bemidji VFW divided its first two starts at the state tournament Thursday, beating St. Cloud East Side, the host team, 6-0 in its opener before bowing to Morris 2-1 in eight innings in the second round.
The Vets return to the field today at 1 in a losers bracket game and face a second at 7 to stay alive. Should it win, it will take four straight wins to reach the final Sunday afternoon.
Matt Schneider hurled a three hitter in the opener winning his sixth game in seven decisions. He has three of the five VFW shutouts this summer.
His mates backed him with a 12-hit attack against Reese Gregory who went the route.
Schneider fanned three and walked three and was seldom In trouble.
Bemidji broke the ice in the third when Kris Berndt singled advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Booster Russ' one bagger.
It became 2-0 in the fourth when Mason Bellew singled, was safe at second on an error on Schneider's grounder to short and took third on Jake Urban's single.
Berndt cashed the run with two outs with a single.
But the game remained in doubt until Bemidji scored four times in the sixth. Urban singled and Cole Bardwell walked. Mitch Hendricks sent both home with a double and scored on Berndt's triple. He crossed on Kevin Murphy's sacrifice fly.
Berndt had three hits and Collin Leif, Bellew and Urban two for Bemidji.Classic mound duel
The late afternoon game was a classic mound gem between Eric Riley of the winners and Bemidji's Zach Oelrich.
Oelrich hurled a five hitter, fanning 11 and walking only one. Riley allowed seven hits but kept them well spaced.
Morris scored in the fourth and Bemidji in the fifth with both hurl4rs dominating play through regulation.
But the Vets could never bunch more than one hit in any inning which, in the long run, cost it the game.
Morris had the same problem.
It scored the first run in the fourth when Riley doubled and came around on two ground outs.
Bemidji leveled the score an inning later when Solheim doubled, ,took third on Jake Urban's sacrifice and scored on a Mitch Hendricks ground out.
But in the eighth, Alex Erickson opened with a double to left, bringing on Ryan Stevens to relieve Solheim.
He walked his first batter, then retired the next on a fly into short right, caught by second baseman Urban running away with his back to the infield. Erickson alertly tagged at second and beat the throw to third.
That told the tale as the Jacks issued two intentional walks to fill the bases. But the next batter, Braden Balness, hit a fly to deeper right with Erickson beating the throw to the plate by an eyelash with the wining run.
Bemidji's seven hits came from as many different bats.
The split left Bemidji at 23-10 on the year. Stevens will get the mound start this afternoon with Kevin Murphy set for the evening game should Bemidji reach that round.
Booster Russ and Ernie Heifort would be the probable starters in Sunday's two games if Bemidji remains alive.
St Cloud East 000-000-0---0-- 3--3
Bemidji VFW 001-104-x---6--12--0
Gregory and Mueller
Schneider (6-1) and Leif
Solheim (1-1), Stevens (8) and Leif
Riley and Beyer
Bemidji has been a regular at the state VFW meet since its initial team took the field in 1980.
It is making its 17th journey this week.
Frank Pelawa formed the first team late in the summer of 1980 to take advantage of the fact that District 9 did not have VFW competition.
The team gained the state unopposed when the Moorhead Gold, the only other team in the district, qualified for the District 9 Legion meet and withdrew from the VFW tournament. The Golds operate as the Moorhead Legion B Team, playing both a Legion and VFW schedule.
Bemidji won one of three games in its initial state trip losing to Owatonna and Bloomington around win over Grand Rapids.
Among the players on that team was lefthander Bryan Hickerson who would go on to stardom at BHS, Minnesota University hand the National League.
The Vets returned to the state in 1981 but lost to Rice Street of St. Paul and St. Louis Park.
After losing in the district final in 1982 and the semi-finals in 1983, Bemidji was back at the state in 1984, losing only to Rochester in its opener before taking the consolation title with wins over Grand Rapids, Pipestone and West Duluth.
In 1985, Bemidji swept to the state title, beating No. St. Paul 8-6, Willmar 12-11 and Rochester 6-3.
Mark Runningen was the winning hurler in the first two games and Tim Knudson hurled the title win. That capped the team's best year at 37-7.
The players on that squad formed the nucleus of the Lumberjacks section champs in 1987.
After failing to field at team in 1986 for lack of players, the Vets regrouped under Chuck Stombaugh and Joe Ryan in 1987 but fell at the district meet.
They returned to the state in 1988 with Jim WynneSr. joining Stombaugh on the coaching staff. Bemidji won the district title 2-1 over Fergus Falls but lost to Winona and Luverne at the state meet.
The Vets returned in 1989 but dropped both starts once again.
Bemidji was favored to win the 1990 district but was upset twice and failed to reach the state.
In 1991, Moorhead beat Bemidji 6-2 in the district final but a year later the Vets began their string of nine straight titles, beating Moorhead twice around a win over Fergus Falls to return to the state.
They beat Austin 6-5 but fell to Alexandria and were eliminated.
In 93, Bemidji tied Moorhead for the regular season title, but was upended by Thief River in the first round at the district, then came through the losers' bracket with five straight wins to claim the title.
The Vets lost to RanView 8-7, beat Rochester 3-0 but fell to Granite Falls 5-4 at the state.
In 94, Bemidji swept the district and beat Moorhead in the state opener before bowing to RanView and Grand Rapids.
In 95, Bemidji lost to champion Rochester in the first round and Mt. Iron in the second game to go home early.
The 96 team beat Austin 7-4 before bowing to Alexandria to be eliminated.
The Vets went 3-1 at the 97 meet, beating Golden Valley twice and Marshall once but falling to Hibbing 3-1 in the second round. It gave Bemidji the consolation title for the second time in its history.
In 1998, Bemidji dropped its opener to Columbia Heights, beat Sleepy Eye and Rochester but lost to Willmar, one round short of the losers' bracket final. The meet switched to a double elimination format for the first time in 98.
In1999, the Vets ended 1-2 at the state in their eighth straight trip, bowing to Tracy 8-7.Beating Moorhead 7-5 but being sent home by Rochester 3-1.
Its last trip in the string came in 2000 where it fell to Alexandria and Sauk Rapids.
The five year wait to return has been the team's longest in history before it returned in 2005 where it went 1-2.
In 16 visits to the state, Bemidji stands 17-28.
1 Owatonna 9
6 Grand Rapids 3
3 Bloomington 7
2 St. Paul Rice Street 5
0 St. Louis Park 12
1 Rochester 8
14 Grand Rapids 6
14 Pipestone 4
7 West Duluth 4
8 North St. Paul 6
12 Willmar 11
6 Rochester 4
1 Winona 5
6 Luverne 9
0 Maplewood 10
4 Morris 5
13 Austin 5
5 Alexandria 6
7 St. Paul RanView 8
3 Rochester 0
4 Granite Falls 5
14 Moorhead 2
0 St. Paul RanView 10
7 Grand Rapids 9
6 Rochester 8
1 Mt. Iron 10
7 Austin 4
9 Alexandria 11
2 Rochester 9
11 Golden Valley 9
1 Hibbing 3
9 Marshall 0
4 Golden Valley 1
3 Columbia Heights 8
8 Sleepy Eye 6
4 Rochester 2
2 Willmar 7
7 Tracy 8
7 Moorhead 5
1 Rochester 3
0 Alexandria 10
2 Sauk Rapids 3
1 St. Paul RanView 14
5 Rochester Century 2
3 Brooklyn Park 4