CASS LAKE - Things didn't start out so well for Caleb Fisher and Cass Lake Bena Tuesday.
The senior hurler kicked off the game with a four-pitch walk to Red Lake leadoff William Chaboyea. Later in the inning, an error and another walk loaded the bases for the Warriors with only one out.
Fisher, though, regrouped and responded.
He struck out the next two hitters to get himself out of the jam, the proceeded to strike out eight more hitters over the course of the next four innings.
His work on the mound, combined with a 10-hit effort from the offense, helped the second-seeded Panthers ease past No. 7 Red Lake 12-2 in six innings in the first round of the Section 8A playoffs.
"I just had to throw for strikes and focus," Fisher said of his early troubles on the chilly Tuesday afternoon characterized by intermittent drizzle. "I was a little stiff (to start out) since it was pretty cold. We hadn't played in a while. But you've gotta throw strikes."
Fisher did. He struck out 11 Red Lake hitters in four innings of work.
The win puts the Panthers (11-9) in semifinals of the 8-A East Sub-section against sixth-seeded Walker-Hackensack-Ackley. Walker upset No. 3 Lake of the Woods 11-9 Tuesday. The game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at the Bemidji State baseball diamond.
The Warriors finish the season 1-12.
Fisher got into a similar pickle in the third inning with his team up 3-0. He walked Chaboyea once again to lead off the frame. Ryan Holtulsen reached on an error and Lakota Chaboyea reached on a fielders choice to jam the sacks again, this time with no outs.
William Chaboyea and Holtulsen both scored on a bizarre passed ball, briefly cutting the Panthers lead to 3-2.
But Fisher recovered immediately, striking out the next three hitters in order and leaving Lakota Chaboyea stranded at third to silence any hope the Warriors had of tying the game.
"We just couldn't come up with the big hits," Red Lake head coach Jason Neimi said. "Our top of the order got on base like we expect them to do, but we couldn't get the big hit when we needed the big hit.
"And their pitcher was able to pitch out of trouble all day."
Cass Lake scored twice more in its half of the third to get some breathing room.
CL-B head coach Kenny Wittner agreed with his starting pitcher's assessment.
"We were a little rusty," he said. The Panthers hadn't played in more than a week, but he wasn't making an excuse.
"The name of the game is throw strikes and hit the ball, but we didn't throw strikes early," he added.
They did, however, pounce on the Warriors early and often. The Panthers scored in every inning and had stellar performances at the dish from both Fisher and catcher Jake Ellis.
Fisher helped his own cause by going 3-for-4 with three RBIs while Ellis was 3-for-3 and a home run short of the cycle, knocking in two runs. The players each scored three times and combined for six of the Panthers' 10 hits.
Everyone else in the Panthers' starting lineup reached base at least once.
CL-B split its season series with Walker, dropping an early-season contest 7-4 before beating the Wolves 8-7 later in the year.
"This team can beat anybody but they can be beat by anybody," Wittner said. "We just have to hit to win."
Cass Lake-Bena 12, Red Lake 2
Red Lake 002 000 - 2 3 5
Cass Lake 212 241 - 12 10 2
Bealieu (L), Holtulsen (6) and L. Chaboyea. K-2, BB-4.
Fisher (W), Moe (5) and Ellis. K-14. BB-5.
Blackduck 14, Laporte 0
BLACKDUCK - Meanwhile in Blackduck, CL-B's conference rivals took care of business. The top-seeded Drakes bashed eighth-seeded Laporte 14-0 in five innings.
"We've been swinging the bats pretty well the past few weeks," Drakes head coach Dwight Kalvig said. "It's nice to keep that going in the playoffs."
The Drakes (18-3) didn't score in the first inning but scored in the second, third and fourth innings in their rout of the Wildcats (0-16).
Shane Fenske homered twice for Blackduck, which takes on Northome/Kelliher in the east sub-section semifinals at noon Friday at BSU. N-K topped Northland 19-5 in five innings Tuesday.
Fenske's first homer was a solo effort to lead off the second inning, then he hit a two-run shot in a monstrous nine-run third inning as the Drakes broke the game wide open.
Aside from Fenske, Galen Martin and Mitchell Sparby both doubled for Blackduck, which saw its 11 hits distributed pretty evenly around the lineup.
Dylan Weisert started and picked up the win for Blackduck, striking out six hitters and giving up only three hits. Trey Volk pitched two innings of scoreless relief, striking out three.
No. 1 Blackduck 14, No. 8 Laporte 0
Laporte 000 00 - 0 3 4
Blackduck 039 2x - 14 11 0
A. Moss (L), M. Moss (5) and Smith. K-3.
Weisert (W), Volk (4) and Fenske. K-9, BB-4.