Solheim, Stevens combine on 1-hitter as Jacks blank Brainerd 3-0 in season opener
Pitching and defense always dictate how a baseball team will fare, and Thursday afternoon in the season opener at the Bemidji State University diamond the Bemidji High School team excelled at both phases.
Zach Solheim allowed only one hit through six innings and Ryan Stevens pitched a perfect seventh to spearhead a 3-0 victory over defending section champion Brainerd. Complementing the two pitchers was a defense that played errorless baseball.
Offensively the Lumberjacks managed only five hits, but three of them came in the fifth inning when BHS scored a key insurance run.
"This was a game we had marked on the calendar since the preseason workouts," said Bemidji coach Mike Fogelson. "It was nice to come out and feel the experience of playing with a veteran team. I felt we were ready to open the year and we were."
Solheim relied on the fast ball to silence Brainerd's bats and the senior fanned seven on way to his shutout performance.
Stevens continued the trend in his one inning of work as he set the Warriors down on a strikeout, ground ball and liner to right.
"I felt I could come out and have a good game," Solheim said. "I basically just threw fastballs. I mixed in a couple of curves but in my mind what I felt I had to do was throw hard and throw strikes. If I did that I knew the defense would do the rest."
Brainerd's lone hit came in the second inning when Blake Peterson managed to plop a scratch single on a 0-2 count.
"On that hit he just stuck his bat out and got a piece of it," Solheim said.
Peterson was stranded at first as Solheim fanned Blaine Bubalo for the third out. The only other Warriors to reach were Blake Theisse and Kevin Peterson who worked walks in the third. Theisse was retired on a fielder's choice off the bat of Pat Skogen and Skogen and Peterson failed to advance past first and second.
BHS fared better with its offense, however, as the Lumberjacks collected five hits, the first off the bat of leadoff hitter Mitch Hendricks.
A pair of passed balls moved Hendricks to third and two-out walks to Cody Rutledge and Collin Leif loaded the bases.
Another walk to Cody Jenkins plated Hendricks with the only run the Jacks would need.
Tyler Follis doubled in the third but did not advance but in the fourth Bemidji scratched a run without the aid of a hit.
Jenkins and Jeremiah Graves walked to open the stanza and Chase Vogt bunted them to second and third.
Dom Hayle then sent a ground ball to second and Jenkins scored after breaking for the plate when second baseman Blake Peterson made the play to first.
The Jacks closed the scoring in the lower fifth as Follis ripped his second double of the day and Rutledge and Leif followed with singles.
"Anytime you can beat Brainerd it's a nice victory," Solheim said. "This win tells us that we are a pretty good team. It tells us that we should be one of the teams to beat in the section."
Despite seeing his starter working on a shutout there was no doubt that Fogelson was going to go with Stevens in the seventh.
"We had set a pitch count of 80 pitches for Zach and after six innings he threw 82," the coach said. "At this time of the year, and with the many pitchers we have available, it was time to pull Zach.
"It was fun to see Zach and Ryan on the mound," Fogelson continued. "Both of them were coming off ACL surgery from last fall. Actually, we were hoping to have them ready by mid-season and it was great that they were ready and effective on opening day."
The Lumberjacks resume their schedule Monday at Thief River Falls. They return home Tuesday against Grand Rapids.
Brainerd 000 000 0 - 0 1 0
Bemidji 100 110 x - 3 5 0
Peterson (L) and London. K-6, BB-5
Solheim (W), Stevens 7 (S) and Leif. K-8, BB-2