BEMIDJI - After spotting Sauk Rapids a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning and being shut down in the home half of the frame, the Bemidji baseball team was looking for something to ignite the comeback.
Senior Sam Dwyer was confident that the spark would soon arrive.
"Everybody on this team is coming into the postseason hot," Dwyer said. "We're playing our best baseball of the year right now and we knew we were going to get the hits and win this game."
Colin Leif's double to begin the second inning was the blow that the Jacks were waiting for. Pinch runner Billy Baugmartner would score later in the inning on Dwyer's fielder's choice, a play in which only his hustle prevented an inning-ending double play.
That run was all BHS needed to jump start its attack and the final result was a 13-3 victory and a trip to St. Cloud next Saturday for the section's final four.
Bemidji will face fourth-seeded St. Michael-Albertville in Saturday's noon contest. A victory in that game would vault the Lumberjacks into the winner's bracket final. A loss would mean demotion into the loser's bracket and a long trip back into the title picture.
Perhaps it was fitting that the 8-3A tournament openers were played on Memorial Day. It will be difficult for the Storm to forget how Dwyer and the Jacks dominated the game after the first inning.
Dwyer was a thorn in Sauk Rapids' side all day. His hustle keyed the second-inning run and he sparked a three-run rally in the fourth by beating out an infield single, scampering all the way to third after forcing an errant pickoff attempt, and promptly scoring courtesy of Connor McNallan's single.
An inning later he singled home a pair of runners to set the table for what would be a game-ending six-run outburst.
"Everybody can hit on this team and Sam fits into the lineup perfectly," said BHS coach Mike Fogelson whose team improved to 20-1 and maintained in No. 1 status in the state's QRF rankings.
"It was nice to see us respond from that 2-0 deficit by doing what we always talk about - hitting the ball, pitching and playing defense."
Sauk Rapids touched BHS starting pitcher Ryan Hirt for two runs in the top of the first as the Storm bunched a double and four singles. None of the hits were the result of solid contact, however, as Sauk Rapids' batters were finding success by throwing the bat at the ball and finding holes.
"You never want to be behind but it's nice to have a stress test once in awhile," Fogelson said. "Even though they had five hits in the first inning Ryan was pitching well. Ultimately, the balls that were leaking through stopped finding the holes and it was nice to see how we responded."
The Jacks responded by ripping 17 hits off four different Storm pitchers. Mitchell Hendricks and Nick Conner contributed a double and two singles, Colin Leif had two doubles and a single and Dwyer, Nick Hovila and McNallan each had a pair of singles.
"We knew Ryan was going to do the job on the mound and we knew we were going to hit the ball," Dwyer, who has seen duty in the infield and the outfield, said of the team's confidence level. "It feels good to hit the ball and run around the bases..
"I really don't care if I play third base or if I go to right field. Being anywhere in this lineup is an honor," Dwyer added.
Hirt allowed 10 hits but kept the damage to a minimum by not allowing a walk. The sophomore is expected to get his second playoff start Saturday against St. Michael.
"We're pretty confident that we can continue to get the job done in the playoffs," Dwyer said. "Our goal all year is to get to Target Field (for the state title game) and to do that we need to win seven playoff games. We have one down and now we only need six more."
Sauk Rapids 200 01 - 3 10 3
Bemidji 013 36 - 13 17 0
Waldorf (L), Heck (3), Bjork (4), Cervenka (5) and Meyer. K-1, BB-3
Hirt (W) and Leif. K-3, BB-0