SOFTBALL: Bemidji falls to Brainerd 7-4 in game of feet
BEMIDJI — Three times in the sixth inning, the Bemidji softball team came within inches of changing its fortunes against Brainerd.
“We were one key hit away in the sixth,” Bemidji head coach Brad Takkunen said. “Maybe two feet away.”
Those two feet proved to be the difference, as the Warriors held on to upset the top-seeded Lumberjacks 7-4 in their Section 8-3A semifinal game Monday afternoon at Bemidji High School.
“The biggest thing for us was we hung in there,” Brainerd head coach Mike Zauhar said. “Bemidji’s got a very good team but our kids were pretty resilient.”
The Lumberjacks (17-4) will take on ninth-seeded St. Cloud Apollo at 4 p.m. Wednesday in an elimination game at BHS. The winner will take on either Big Lake or Alexandria at 6 p.m. in another elimination game.
Fourth-seeded Brainerd (13-5) will take on second-seeded Elk River at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Elk River.
“This is a good test for us,” Takkunen said of Monday’s loss and the Lumberjacks’ moving to the losers bracket. “This is a great opportunity to see what we’re made of.”
The Lumberjacks, who entered the sixth inning trailing the Warriors 6-3, had led for much of the way Monday thanks to Jess Yost’s solid pitching.
But the Warriors got to Yost the second and third time through the order.
The Lumberjacks needed a rally and looked to start one with two outs in the sixth, scoring one run.
Courtney Black had a chance to give the Lumberjacks a few more with the bases loaded.
On the fourth pitch from Brainerd hurler Maddie Franz, Black laced a screamer down the left field line.
The Lumberjack players in the Bemidji dugout rose with excitement, but only briefly. The ball landed about two feet to the left of the line.
Black would strike out two pitches later, stranding the bases loaded.
“Courtney almost tied it with that foul ball,” Takkunen said. “She was a couple feet away from the big hit. She actually had some really good swings in that at-bat.”
The Lumberjacks swung the bat well against Franz but were continually foiled by measurements — feet and inches.
Sylvia Grimm, the first batter of the Lumberjack sixth, blistered the first pitch she saw from the Brainerd hurler on the ground.
It looked like the ball would get through the hole between second and first base, but just in the nick of time Brainerd second baseman Hannah Kangas fell to the ground, corralled the ball and tossed it from her glove to first baseman Mikeala Chandler.
The Lumberjacks had three more hits in the inning and took advantage of a Brainerd error to load the bases with two outs.
Just before Black’s close call Jasmin Yerbich, who precedes Black in the batting order, hit a bloop liner to a similar location down the left field line.
This time, Brainerd left fielder Faith Kassulker raced over and made a dive.
It looked like she made the catch in foul territory but the ball fell out of her glove at the last second.
Yerbich, getting a second chance, took advantage on the next pitch and stroked a single to center field to score a run for the Lumberjacks.
However, that was all Bemidji could get in that inning.
“We swung the bat well today,” Takkunen said. “We got jammed a few times, their pitcher forced us to pop it up a few times.
“We got enough kids on base to win, we just gave them too many runs.”
The Lumberjacks scored two runs in the first inning when Yerbich and Black each reached base and scored on Yost’s RBI single.
Brainerd and Bemidji traded single runs in the fourth inning, but things came apart for the Jacks in the fifth inning.
Kassulker and Sarah Dick each reached base and scored on Maria West’s double to tie the game at 3-3.
That seemed to rattle the Lumberjacks.
After an error, a walk and a single, Yost threw a pair of wild pitches that scored two runs and put Brainerd up 5-3.
She finally got Kassulker to strike out swinging to end the inning but the damage was done.
“We got rattled a little bit,” Takkunen said. “Give Brainerd credit, because they put pressure on us with some bunts and on the basepaths. But once they scored those two runs things got out of control.”
Brainerd scored a run in the top of the sixth and another in the top of the seventh to give them some insurance.
In the seventh, Franz retired the Lumberjacks in order to pull off the upset.
“Maddie pitched a whale of a game for us today,” Zauhar said of his pitcher, who struck out just two but walked only one. “She placed her pitches well and got the outs when she needed to.”
Franz gave up four runs — three earned — on eight hits.
Yost took the loss for Bemidji, giving up seven runs — five earned — on 14 hits. She struck out just two.
Yerbich and Jordyn Follis each had two hits for Bemidji; all eight BHS hits were singles.
Brainerd 7, Bemidji 4
Brainerd 000 141 1 – 7 14 2
Bemidji 200 101 0 – 4 8 3
Franz (W) and Wennerstand. K-2, BB-1.
Yost (L) and Black. K-2, BB-2.