VFW baseball reaches state title series
Geographically, Bemidji and Worthington are about as distant as two Minnesota communities can be. Worthington is nestled in the southwestern corner of the state while Bemidji is the showpiece of north-central Minnesota.
Saturday morning at the state VFW baseball tournament in Austin another chasm between the communities was exposed as Bemidji dismantled Worthington in the winner's bracket final 16-0.
Saturday's victory advanced the Vets to today's championship series. The first game is set for 11 a.m. and Bemidji would capture the state crown with a victory. If the VFW loses, however, a second game would follow.
"We've only used two pitchers the entire tournament (Trent Baker and Ryan Hirt) and we're in very good shape for Sunday," said VFW coach Brad Johnson. "I think the other teams are starting to notice us. When we came here we might have been a little intimidated but Saturday you could tell that Worthington was intimidated by us. We've played the minimum number of games but everybody else is running out of pitching and no matter who we face in the final we should have an advantage."
Bemidji's opponent for the championship series was determined late last night. Saturday afternoon New Ulm battled St. Paul RanView in loser-bracket play and that winner faced Worthington for the right to tangle with Bemidji.
"It doesn't matter who we play," Johnson said. "We are playing very good baseball right now."
Saturday the VFW put together its best performance of the tournament as Hirt tossed a 2-hit shutout, the defense played flawlessly and the offense coaxed eight walks and pounded 11 hits.
"The guys are buying into the philosophy that if we put the ball in play and force the defense to react we will score runs," Johnson said. "We also preach scoring early in the game and never letting up once we get a lead."
The Vets used that strategy to destroy Worthington as Bemidji had three runs on the board before Worthington had an at-bat. The VFW also shattered any hopes of a comeback by scoring seven runs in the third and three in the fourth and fifth.
"In the spring high school baseball B-team season and this summer the coaches have stressed that the job of each inning's lead-off hitter is to get on base," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter how you get on base. It can be a walk, a hit, an error, catcher's interference. It doesn't matter as long as you get on base."
Nick Hovila was the game's leadoff hitter and he took those words to heart by drawing a walk. Dom Hayle did the same and those free passes set the table for Collin Leif's RBI single and Hirt's 2-run double.
Hayle also walked to begin the Bemidji third and before Worthington knew what had happened the Vets scored seven runs. The inning featured singles by Mason Bellew, Leif, Sam Dwyer, Hovila and Hayle, an error and a 2-run double by Cody Jenkins.
By the fourth inning Worthington's goal was to save its pitching for the rest of the tournament and Bemidji scored six runs off the relievers. Half of the runs came in the fourth with the help of four walks and in the fifth Bemidji's bench produced three more runs.
Leif finished with a pair of singles and two RBI. Nick Conner contributed a double and three RBI while Jenkins, Hayle and Devin Barrett each had a pair.
Baker, who threw 2.1 innings against Forest Lake Thursday and went the distance Friday against RanView, is slated to start again today.