BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji High School softball team had been on the positive end of many close games in the weeks leading up to the Section 8-AAA tournament. Pitching and defense won it for Lumberjacks in each of their last two, against Grand Rapids and Cloquet.
In Thursday night's Section 8-AAA opener against No. 7 seed Rocori, pitching and defense were once again solid for second-seeded Bemidji but a sputtering offense and one run proved to be the difference in Rocori's 1-0 upset victory.
Jess Yost struck out 14 Rocori batters, walked none and gave up only three hits, but a pair of Spartans doubles in the third inning scored the game's only run and led to Bemidji's early playoff exit.
"We only gave up one run and it was enough for them," Bemidji head coach Brad Takkunen said. "Jess had a dominating game. She pitched phenomenal. But it was just their day."
The Spartans (11-6) defeated Moorhead 10-0 in the first game of the night for the right to face Bemidji.
And against Yost, they had trouble even getting a bat on Yost's pitches.
"That's probably the second-best pitcher we've seen this year," Rocori head coach Chris Hinkemeyer said of Yost. "She was definitely a lot faster than the first pitcher we saw. She threw a lot harder and she was very good."
The Bemidji junior struck out the first six batters she faced, but the Spartans got on the board in the third inning. Chelsey Engelmeyer doubled to the gap in left centerfield and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt from Rachel Prozinski.
Yost laid out to make a diving grab of Lauren Wenz's bunt for the second out. But the next hitter, Tyler Schramel, scored the winning run anyway with another double, this time to the gap in right center.
That run proved to be enough. And Hinkemeyer was glad to get it.
"It took us a little bit to get our timing down, but you know, you've just gotta battle," he said. "We felt that if we played good defense we've got a shot to bet anybody."
The Lumberjacks (14-7) saw lots of Rocori's flashy defense. Rocori hurler Kassidy Klaphake gave up four hits and struck out only six hitters but when the Jacks made contact, it was usually right at a Spartan fielder.
"She wasn't overpowering but she moved the ball in and out," Takkunen said. "There were some really good pitches that she made at the right time so you've gotta give her a lot of credit."
The Spartans also made some WebGem-quality plays in the outfield to rob the Lumberjacks of potential hits.
In the third inning, Jordyn Follis hit a bloop to shallow right that looked like a sure base hit. But Engelmeyer ran in from deep in right field and made a headfirst dive in fair territory, just feet from the foul line.
In the fourth inning, Janelle Williams smoked a long fly ball to left but Wenz ran the ball down for a Willie Mays over-the-shoulder grab to save a double.
"If they're going to be able to do that, you've gotta credit them," Takkunen said. "I told the girls, 'We've got 21 outs to make something happen.' But it just didn't happen this time."
The Jacks threatened once more in the game, getting runners on in the sixth inning with a single from Courtney Black, a fielders choice from Jineane Williams and a single from Janelle Williams, putting two on with two out.
Hannah Olson came up next and smoked Klaphake's first pitch to shortstop. A few feet to the right and it may have tied the game but instead Shania Shmitz scooped it up and tossed it to second for the inning-ending forceout.
Rocori retired the Jacks 1-2-3 in the seventh to complete the upset.
"You can second guess as a coach what you should do," Takkunen said. "But you try to play your hunches and you know what the kids have done all year and it just didn't happen today."
Although the Lumberjacks expected a deeper playoff run, having 12 underclassmen on the squad means most of them will return hungry for a better showing next season.
"We obviously had aspirations of getting further," he said. "You've gotta give Rocori credit, but for us I want the underclassmen to get into the weight room and work hard, play a lot of ball this summer and get better."
The three graduating seniors -- Janelle and Jineane Williams and Tami Jo Olson -- will be missed.
"We've got a lot of talent coming back," Takkunen said. "We'll miss Jineane and Janelle and TJ. They're going to be hard to replace.
"You win sometimes with your bats, sometimes with speed, sometimes with other things, so we'll just have to find a way to win next year."
Rocori 1, Bemidji 0
Rocori 001 000 0 - 1 3 1
Bemidji 000 000 0 - 0 4 0
Klaphake (W) and Heinen. K-6, BB-1.
Yost (L) and Black. K-14. BB-0.