ST. PAUL - After having an apparent victory snatched away by a difference of opinion among the umpires, the Bemidji baseball team rallied with two runs in the top of the eighth inning to outlast Eden Prairie 8-6 Friday at Midway Stadium in the semifinals of the Class 3A state tournament.
The victory was rewarded with a berth in Monday's 6 p.m. Class 3A title game at Target Field. They'll take on Apple Valley Eastview in the title game. Eastview defeated Grand Rapids 5-3 in the other semifinal game Friday.
The Lumberjacks found a way to forget about the weird happenings in the bottom of the seventh, which opened the door for Eden Prairie to tie the game and force extra innings. And leading the charge in the decisive frame was Connor McNallan, who eventually scored the winning run after reaching on a bad-hop single with one out in the stanza.
"There was a lot of adversity that we had to overcome," a weary McNallan said. "That was a crazy inning."
The junior was referring to the bottom of the seventh, when Eden Prairie tied the game following a call that not even the umpires understood.
After jumping out to a 6-0 lead after two innings, Bemidji's offense stalled.
The Eagles, however, mounted a comeback with four runs in the fourth.
Another tally in the fifth drew them within 6-5 but BHS maintained that edge until the seventh.
With two down in the frame Jacks pitcher Mitchell Hendricks appeared to fan Manny Halloran on a 3-2 check swing and runners on first and second.
When the home plate ump pointed to Halloran and called him out on the check swing, Bemidji's bench erupted.
The players and coaches raced to the field and hugged each other as family members would.
During the celebration, however, the Eden Prairie coaches pleaded with the first base umpire, claiming that the pitch had hit the dirt and that no tag on Halloran was made. The umpires then decided to discuss the issue and, after 10 minutes of huddle, sided with Eden Prairie.
Halloran was awarded first, which loaded the bases, and when Hendricks walked Brett Guba, the game was tied.
Jordan Smith eventually ended the inning on a grounder to McNallan but the damage had been done.
Eden Praire had tied the game.
"It was tough coming back to get that third out," Hendricks admitted. "There were a couple of close pitches that we didn't get but we had to come back. We had a goal all year of getting to Target Field and I wasn't going to be the one who let his teammates down. We were going to get out of that inning."
McNallan also wasn't about to let his teammates down, and his bad-hop single set the stage for the comeback.
Following the single McNallan raced to third on an errant pickoff attempt and he scored when Nick Hovila's grounder to third was thrown into right field.
Hovila raced to third on the error and he upped the lead to 8-6 when Hendricks blooped a single over short.
"I was just trying to get on base," McNallan said. "It was tough not being angry after that bottom of the seventh but I needed to forget about it."
Lumberjacks coach Mike Fogelson was proud of how his players overcame the Eden Prairie seventh but he wasn't surprised that BHS came back to win.
"That was as tough a situation that you can be in during a baseball game," Fogelson said. "When an umpire says the game is done and then they say we're not done, it's hard to come back.
"But you have to play the cards that are dealt to you," Fogelson continued. "And this was an awesome response in the toughest situation I've ever seen on a baseball diamond."
Bemidji took a 3-0 lead in the opening frame on singles by Nick Hovila and Colin Leif, Cody Jenkins' double and singles off the bats of Mason Bellew and Nick Conner.
Leif's 2-run single highlighted Bemidji's 3-run second and the Jacks owned a 6-0 lead after two innings.
Jenkins also started on the mound but Eden Prairie chased him with four runs in the fourth.
Hendricks relieved Jenkins and went the rest of the way.
"We weren't going to let anything get in the way of us going to Target Field," Hendricks said. "This trip and this season were all about winning any way we had to.
"And all I can say about this win is 'WOW!'"
NOTES: The Bemidji baseball boosters are sponsoring a bus to the Target Field for Monday's championship game. The bus will leave from the high school at 12:30 p.m. and the cost is $25. The fee does not include the admission cost to the game.
To register for the bus trip or for more information contact Sue Hendricks at 218-766-3355.
Bemidji 8, Eden Prairie 6 (8 inns.)
Bemidji 330 000 02 - 8 13 1
Eden Prairie 000 410 10 - 6 11 4
Jenkins, Hendricks (W, 4) and Leif. K-2, BB-4
Binger, Lorts (L, 2) and Halloran. K-3, BB-1
State quarterfinal: Bemidji 5, Hill-Murray 0
Ryan Hirt is only a sophomore, and Friday's quarterfinal game against Hill-Murray marked the first time that he had pitched in the state high school baseball tournament.
His Bemidjii teammates were veterans of the event, having qualified for the state meet last spring.
Friday, however, Hirt looked the equal of his experienced teammates as the lefty fanned 12 Pioneers, allowed only three singles and pitched the Lumberjacks into the championship semifinals with a 5-0 performance.
"Ryan established his fastball right away and Hill-Murray never got a bead on it," said BHS coach Mike Fogelson. "And once that fast ball was established Ryan stuck with it."
Hirt used that pitch to constantly get ahead of the hitters and every once in awhile he would sneak a curve or a change-up past the Pioneers when they were guessing fastball.
And where the pitch was thrown was as deadly as when it was called.
"I was able to locate the fastball inside and out," he said. "That was my money pitch.
"But Collin (Leif, Bemidji catcher), called a great game. He always knows what to throw at the right time. He and I always seem to be working on the same page."
Hill-Murray managed only one legitimate threat against Hirt and the Lumberjacks defense. After BHS took a 2-0 lead in the top half of the first inning the Pioneers used a pair of singles and a throwing error to put men on the corners with two outs.
Hirt, however, snuffed that opportunity when Jay Zoborowoski watched a fastball split the plate.
In the top half of the frame the Jacks scored all the runs they would need. Nick Hovila led off with a walk and an out later Cody Rutledge coaxed a free pass.
Leif followed with an RBI single to right and with two outs Mason Bellew did the same.
"We were the visitors, and I think that might have been a good thing because we were able to get two runs on the board before Ryan had to pitch," Fogelson said.
The Lumberjacks scored two more runs in the third courtesy of Bellew's 2-run single to right, and Connor McNallan's single to open the fourth, Hovila's bunt and Mitchell Hendricks' single to left capped the scoring and gave the Jacks their 5-0 lead.
Bellew finished with three RBI on two singles. Leif also had a pair of hits.
"Both of Hill-Murray's pitchers were good, but not as good as Ryan was," Bellew said. "I knew the pitcher (Luc Henke) was quick, but I was able to see the ball coming out of his hands very well and I was able to get the bat on the ball and find the holes.
"It felt good to help the team out," Bellew added.
"Helping in any way that I can is what I'm here to do."
Bemidji 5, Hill-Murray 0
Bemidji 202 100 0 - 5 8 2
Hill-Murray 000 000 0 - 0 3 0
Hirt (W) and Leif. K-12. BB-1
Henke (L), Kosmarski (4) and Neubeck. K-6, BB-3