Legion captures sub-district title with Wednesday's late win over Brainerd
By Pat Miller
Pioneer Sports Writer
A full Wednesday of baseball at the BSU diamond ended on a successful note for the Bemidji Legion as the home team captured the sub-district championship by downing Nisswa 5-4 and Brainerd 5-3.
The championship wasn't assured until 10:30 p.m. when Bemidji pitcher Trent Baker blew a fast ball past Brainerd's Drew Stennes for the final out.
Brainerd and Nisswa each finished 1-1 Wednesday and squared off Thursday in the final elimination game at Brainerd. The loser would see its season come to a close while the winner would claim second place in the sub-district and qualify for next week's district meet in St. Cloud.
Originally the second-place game was scheduled to be played at BSU but when it was determined that Brainerd and Nisswa would be the combatants the game was switched to a more convenient locale.
In Wednesday's action Brainerd and Nisswa each defeated Little Falls but lost to Bemidji. Neither Bemidji win, however, came easily.
"I figured all four teams would put their best foot forward for this tournament and would play their best baseball," said Bemidji coach Mike Fogelson whose team improved to 22-4. "I wasn't surprised that we found ourselves in a couple of battles that went down to the last pitch."
Baker, who improved to 8-0, pitched all nine innings in Wednesday's late win over Brainerd. The right-hander struck out five, walked one, plunked three batters and allowed eight hits.
Only one Brainerd run was earned.
"Trent did a great job," Fogelson said. "He mixed things up and pitched like he has all year."
Kevin Peterson started on the Brainerd mound and, although he is the ace of the staff, the Legion players knew his strengths and weaknesses.
"Between high school and Legion baseball this was the fourth time we've faced Peterson," Fogelson said. "We knew he would keep Brainerd in the game."
Bemidji went to work early and touched Peterson for a run in the first and two in the second. Mitchell Hendricks' single and Cody Rutledge's RBI double combined for the first-inning tally and Zach Solheim's home run scored the singling Mason Bellew in the second.
Brainerd drew within 3-1 in the fifth on a hit batter and double but the Legion regained momentum in the lower sixth with a pair of runs.
Dom Hayle singled to begin the stanza and gained second on an errant pickoff attempt. Sam Dwyer's groundout moved Hayle to third and the speedster scored a few pitches later when Hendricks grounded to third.
Collin Leif kept the inning alive when his pop fly to shallow right was lost in the lights and, after a wild pitch, he scored courtesy of Tyler Follis' single to left, just beating the relay to the plate with a perfect slide around the catcher.
Those two runs proved crucial as Brainerd used an error, a hit batter, a sacrifice and two singles to score a pair in the upper eighth.
Baker allowed a two-out single in the ninth but fanned Stennes to end the game.
"I think the difference in the sub-district tournament was the fact that we were able to play at home," Fogelson said. "We earned the right to be home by going 11-1 against these teams during the regular season."
Bemidji has a break before traveling to St. Cloud next Wednesday for the district tournament. The Legion will play at 11 a.m. and at 5 p.m. but the opponents are yet to be determined.
The eight-team district meet will include Bemidji and either Brainerd or Nisswa, three teams from the St. Cloud sub-district and two from the Melrose sub-district.
"The district tournament will be very similar to the high school section meet," Fogelson said. "We'll be playing against teams we saw during high school."
The district tournament is a double-elimination affair and the top two teams will advance to the state meet.
Legion Sub-District Tournament
Brainerd 12, Little Falls 2
Bemidji 5, Nisswa 4
Nisswa 011 001 100 - 4 9 1
Bemidji 010 001 012 - 5 13 3
Martin (L) and Borlaug. K-2, BB-3
Solheim, Follis (8) (W) and Leif. K-6, BB-1
Nisswa 5, Little Falls 0 (Little Falls eliminated)
Bemidji 5, Brainerd 3
Brainerd 000 010 020 - 3 8 2
Bemidji 120 002 00x - 5 12 1
Peterson (L), Stennes (7) and London. K-8, BB-6
Baker (W 8-0) and Leif. K-5, BB-1
Nisswa at Brainerd (winner finishes second and qualifies for district tournament)