ST. CLOUD - Ripping timely hits that produced crooked numbers on the scoreboard has been among the strengths of the Bemidji baseball team.
During the regular season the Lumberjacks averaged more than 10 runs a game and that offensive firepower helped BHS roar to a 19-1 record.
During the Section 8-3A playoffs, however, the timely hit has been absent and Tuesday in the opening game of the championship series against St. Cloud Apollo the key hit at the right time never materialized.
St. Cloud Apollo's offense did manufacture a pair of timely hits, however, and the result was a 4-0 victory over the Lumberjacks in a game played in Apollo's back yard at the St. Cloud baseball complex.
Tuesday's result means that Bemidji and Apollo both are 22-2 on the year and both have lost one game in the double-elimination section playdowns. It also means that the Jacks and the Eagles will stage a rematch 7 p.m. today at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud with the section championship and a trip to the state tourney at stake.
Bemidji is the top seed but tournament officials have decided that the semifinals and the championship rounds are to be played in St. Cloud instead of at a neutral field. And Putz Field happens to be St. Cloud Apollo's home park.
Despite being shutout for the first time all year the Jacks had plenty of scoring opportunities. They stranded 11 runners and eight of them were in scoring position.
"We left too many runners on base," said BHS coach Mike Fogelson. "And we actually hit the ball hard but at the crucial times we hit it at somebody."
The trend started early. In the first inning Nick Hovila singled and advanced to second on Mitchell Hendricks' sacrifice bunt. But Cody Rutledge was retired on a fly ball to center and Collin Leif hit a comebacker to the mound for the third out.
The Jacks stranded Sam Dwyer at second and Connor McNallan at first in the second stanza and in the third inning singles by Hendricks and Rutledge combined with a stolen base to put runners at second and third with only one out.
But a strikeout and a fly ball to left ended that threat.
St. Cloud Apollo used a single, a walk, an error and another single to forge a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth.
BHS seemed destined to answer right back when they loaded the bases with only one out in the bottom half of the inning.
But a sharply hit ground ball resulted in an infield double play to end that threat.
The Eagles upped their lead to 4-0 in the upper fifth when Brandon Bloch delivered a two-out, two-run double.
In the home half of the stanza the Lumberjacks advanced runners to first and third with two out but again, the threat fizzled, this time on a fly ball to center.
Bemidji's final opportunity came in the sixth when Nick Conner gained second and Hovila first with two out. Hendricks' line drove to left was snagged by Ethan Carlson, however, to end the inning.
Hendricks went the distance on the Bemidji mound and allowed the four runs on eight hits. He fanned two and issued four walks.
A pair of St. Cloud Apollo pitchers also allowed eight hits but they helped themselves by not issue a walk.
Ryan Hirt will pitch today's win-or-go-home game.
"The kids know what the stakes are," Fogelson said. "I expect us to go after it and to fight for everything. There are two teams left and after Wednesday one will go on and one will go home."
St. Cloud Apollo 000 220 0 - 4 8 0
Bemidji 000 000 0 - 0 8 1
Frericks, Mueller (4, W) and Jarosch. K-3, BB-0
Hendricks (L) and Leif. K-2, BB-4