BEMIDJI - The sun came up Saturday morning but it is unlikely that many of the Bemidji High School baseball players were awake to see it.
After waiting out a day-long rain delay, playing two pressure-packed state tournament games at two different venues in St. Paul on Friday and returning to Bemidji at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday, the Lumberjacks deserved to sleep in.
"Everybody was beat. Everybody was wiped out. It was a relaxing and quiet bus ride home," said BHS coach Mike Fogelson Saturday afternoon. "It's been a long couple of days."
But those days also have been profitable. Friday morning at Dunning Field near the Concordia-St. Paul campus Bemidji dominated Hill-Murray 5-0 in the state Class 3A quarterfinals. Following that victory the Lumberjacks hopped on the bus and headed to Midway Stadium where they defeated Eden Prairie 8-6 in a game that was filled with controversy.
Bemidji (25-2) roared to a 6-0 lead after two innings but the Eagles battled back and were within 6-5 with two out and two on in the bottom of the seventh.
When Jacks pitcher Mitchell Hendricks coaxed Eden Prairie's Danny Halloran to flail at a third-strike pitch in the dirt, everybody, including home plate umpire Eleazar Kovalov, thought the game was over. BHS catcher Collin Leif tagged Halloran on the shoulder to ensure the out and after Kovalov's call the Lumberjacks and their fans celebrated because they knew they were headed to Target Field for Monday's 6 p.m. state championship game.
During the celebration, however, the Eden Prairie coaching staff convinced first base umpire Bryce Jacobson that no tag had been made and that Halloran should be awarded first.
The umpires decided to huddle, and 10 minutes later they switched the call and sent Halloran to first.
Hendricks walked the next man to force home the tying run but he retired Jordan Smith on a ground ball to preserve the deadlock.
The Lumberjacks responded with two runs in the top of the eighth on a bad-hop single by Connor McNallan, a pair of throwing errors and Hendricks' RBI bloop single over short.
Hendricks shut the door on Eden Prairie in the bottom of the eighth and justice had been served.
Video replay of the controversial call clearly shows that Leif did tag Halloran on the shoulder but somehow the umpires missed the play.
"Umpiring is a tough job and they didn't have the luxury of replay," said Bemidji coach Mike Fogelson. "They are under tremendous pressure.
"The bigger deal than the missed call is how we responded to it," Fogelson continued. "To see us hang in there and come back like we did was impressive. Eden Prairie helped us with those defensive mistakes in the eighth inning but we put the pressure on them and forced those mistakes."
Assistant coach Brad Johnson also was impressed with Bemidji's resolve to get the job done no matter the obstacles.
"I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," Johnson said. "The way we came back against Eden Prairie showed us just how mentally tough we are. The way Eden Prairie folded in that eighth inning also showed that Eden Prairie was not as mentally tough as we are."
Friday's victories set the stage for Monday's game against Eastview of Apple Valley. The Lightning (22-4) defeated Red Wing 3-1 in its opener and rallied to stop Grand Rapids 5-3 in the semifinals.
"When we woke up Saturday we realized that there is unfinished business for us," Johnson said. "We still have a game to play and we still have a game to win.
"Friday was exciting but there still is more for us to do. The game against Eden Prairie wasn't for the state championship. Monday's game against Eastview is."
Sophomore Ryan Hirt (10-0), who stopped Hill-Murray on three hits Friday, will get the pitching start.
Monday's projected lineup will see Nick Hovila in left, Hendricks at short, Cody Rutledge in center, Leif behind the plate, Cody Jenkins at second, Mason Bellew at first, Nick Conner as the designated hitter, Sam Dwyer in right and McNallan at third.
"Our dream is now in sight," Fogleson said. "We continued to check off our goals all year and we have one goal left. Hopefully we'll be able to check off the state championship on Monday."
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.
Class 3A State Tournament
Bemidji 5, Hill-Murray 0
Eden Prairie 4, Hopkins 0
Eastview 3, Red Wing 1
Grand Rapids 10, Totino-Grace 1
Bemidji 8, Eden Prairie 6, 8 innings
Eastview 5, Grand Rapids 3
Hill-Murray 6, Hopkins 1
Red Wing 6, Totino-Grace 5
Eden Prairie vs. Grand Rapids, cancelled (rain)
Hill-Murray vs. Red Wing, cancelled (rain)
Target Field, 6 p.m.
Bemidji vs. Eastview