Prior to Thursday's Section 8A semifinal game between Cass Lake-Bena and Norman County, CL-B coach Kenny Wittner and assistant Brian Michaelson dissected the possible scenarios.
When the scouting reports had been analyzed and the relative strengths and weaknesses of both teams had been computed, the coaches made their predictions.
"My assistant thought we would win 7-3 and I figured we would sneak out an 8-7 victory," Wittner said.
"Nobody even considered a 1-0 game."
After Tyler Trosen coaxed a grounder to second for the final out of the game, however, the Panthers did advance to today's section title game with a 1-0 victory.
Cass Lake-Bena will take a 25-0 record into the Section 8A championship battle against Fosston and the game that will decide the section's representtative at the state baseball tournament is set for 2 p.m. at the BSU diamond. The original schedule had today's game starting at 4 p.m. but a forecast for rain later today prompted tournament officials to move the starting time ahead two hours.
Fosston earned a rematch with CL-B by stopping Red Lake County 5-3 in Wednesday's second game.
A week ago Cass Lake-Bena downed Fosston 5-1 in the sub-section championship contest.
Wednesday against Red Lake County the Panthers tallied the only run of the game in the third inning when Chad Wittner singled, stole second, gained third on Nolan Goss' ground ball and scored when Mike Hanson drilled a shot to the wall in straightaway center field.
Hanson was the final CL-B batter to reach base as Norman County hurler Richie Navratil retired the final 10 Panthers.
Cass Lake-Bena managed only one other scoring threat and that came in the first inning when Wittner and Nolan Goss singled to begin the game. Navratil stiffened, however, and retired the next three Panthers without incident.
Norman County also threatened twice. In the first inning Mike Erickson walked, stole second and gained third on a passed ball but Trosen escaped damage as he coaxed a foul pop, a strikeout and a groundout.
Were it not for an alert play by shortstop Caleb Fisher, Erickson could have scored on the pop as first baseman Jake Ellis, Trosen and catcher Mike Masten all made a play on the ball. Ellis eventually caught it but home plate would have been vacated had it not been for Fisher's quick reaction.
"That was a great play by Caleb," Wittner said. "You didn't know it at the time but that play could have been the difference."
The Wildcats seemed destined to score in the fourth as Cody Holte singled, stole second and gained third when Yuri Johnson's third strike was missed. Johnson reached first on the play and Norman County had runners on the corners with nobody out.
"I don't think anybody expected us to get out of that situation, especially the way we did," Wittner said.
The way CL-B escaped that threat was a triple play started by Ellis catching a foul pop at first. Johnson was stealing on the pitch and he was well off the bag when Ellis flipped to Trosen who covered first for the second out.
Holte took a chance and broke for home after the catch but Trosen threw a strike to Masten who was waiting with the tag.
Adding insult to injury for Norman County, Holte did not slide and was ejected from the game.
"It was a great pitching performance by both pitchers," Wittner said. "Tyler threw very well and his defense made the plays. Navratil matched Tyler pitch for pitch.
"There were two very good teams on the field," Wittner continued. "Norman County scored in double digits nine times this year and we have a high-scoring offense. That's why I never thought this would be a 1-0 game. But the pitching dominated."
Hanson, who went the distance last week in the sub-section win over Fosston, will get the assignment today and it is likely that Taylor Humphrey, who has been behind the plate in all of Hanson's eight victories this spring, will do the catching.
"We're very excited to be playing in the section championship game," Wittner, whose team lost 17-0 to Northern Freeze in last year's title tilt, said. "We've been waiting 25 games to get another chance. And now we have that chance."
Section 8A Semifinals
Cass Lake-Bena 1, Norman County 0
Fosston 5, Red Lake County 3
Cass Lake-Bena vs. Fosston, 2 p.m. BSU
Norman County 000 000 0 - 0 2 0
Cass Lake-Bena 001 000 x - 1 4 0
Navratil (L) and Holte, Petrik (4).K-7, BB-0
Trosen (W 9-0) and Masten. K-7, BB-1