Blaine outlasts Mudcats in playoff pitching battle
The Blaine Fusion, the defending Region 6B champions, clinched the first berth at the state tournament Saturday afternoon with a 13-inning 1-0 win over Bemidji's Mudcats.
Bemidji and Hibbing met in the late game for the second state spot and a berth in today's finals.
That winner takes on Blaine at 11 with a second game, if needed, to follow immediately.
Blaine advanced Friday night with a 5-2 win over the Duluth Xpress.
Hibbing ousted the Xpress in Saturday's opening game, rallying for five runs in the final three innings to win 6-5.
Duluth had finished second in the Arrowhead League race behind Bemidji with Hibbing third.
The Bemidji-Blaine game was a brilliant mound duel between the Mudcats Tyler Norland and Shane Bushland of Blaine.
Bushland had the better of the battle but the game remained scoreless through the first 12 frames.
But designated hitter Tony Heifort took Norland's first pitch in the 13th over the left center field fence, just clearing the barrier east of the 30 foot section that would have held the blow to a double.
Norland struck out the next three batters but the damage had been done.
He ended with eight strikeouts and three walks, one intentional, in a fine effort working around nine hits and four Bemidji errors to strand 13 runners. Bemidji left only seven.
Blaine went 1-19 with runners in scoring position.
They failed to get a runner to third until the fifth when Matt Auer singled, was sacrificed to second and reached third as Dan Mossey beat out a bunt.
But Andrew Hengel trapped him off third on a grounder to second base to end that threat.
Blaine's'next runner to reach third came in the tenth when Dan Croal doubled with one out and advanced on a ground out. Norland got the last out on a fly to center to preserve the shutout.
It was a similar pattern in the 11th when Corey Johnson singled and moved up on a sacrifice and ground out before Mossey's comebacker proved the final out.
But there was no answer for Heifort's blast in the13th.
Bemidji's scoring chances were few and far between.
Bushman allowed five hits, three of them doubles, fanned 11 and walked three, one intentionally.
Brian Murphy singled and reached second on a sacrifice in the sixth but was stranded.
Tony Klaers doubled with two gone in the eighth but got no farther.
Kyle Figgins doubled with one gone in the 10th but also moved no farther.
Dan Bauer doubled to open the 12th but was trapped on Jeff Schaper's shot to Bushman and run down for the first out. Schaper was stranded at first.
Bemidji went down in order in the13th.
Bushman ended with 124 pitches. Norland threw 145, three shy of Paul Fenner's 148 in the opening night win over Hibbing.
Doug Peterson was the expected starter against Hibbing. Today's starter was uncertain if Bemidji advances.
Hibbing trailed Duluth 5-1 after six but scored three times in the seventh to draw within one and win with a pair in the ninth.
A walk, Dan Eldien's double and an intentional pass filled the bases with no outs.
Duluth got a force at home for the first out but shortstop Ben Povhe drove in the tying and winning runs with a single.
Bemidji 10, Hibbing 4
Blaine 5, Duluth 2
Hibbing 6, Duluth 5
Blaine 1, Bemidji 0 (13)
Bushman and Mauer
Norland (2-3) and Klaers