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Mudcats seeking first state baseball title since '77 Chiefs

The Bemidji Mudcats head to Gaylord tonight to begin play at the State Class B Amateur Tournament, still in search of their third state championship.

The Cats open against Region 7B champ Sauk Rapids at 8:30 p.m. with the Region 6B champion Blaine opening against 7B runner-up Cold Spring at 6.

It will be the only game for both teams this weekend. The losers of the first round games are eliminated under the new state format.The eight winners this weekend return to Arlington Aug. 29 for second round contests in the opening round of double elimination play.

The game will be broadcast locally over WMIS-FM (92.1) with Brian Schultz at mike side.

Blaine defeated Bemidji 5-2 in the Region 6B winners bracket final to gain the first state berth Bemidji defeated Hibbing 10-2 in the losers bracket final to clinch the second.

The pair were to have met Sunday at BSU to determine seeding positions. But Sunday's rain deluge washed out those contests.

Sauk Rapids' Cyclones turned back Cold Spring twice within a 24 hour period to take the 7B crown, winning 3-2 Sunday afternoon after a 4-1 win Saturday night.

That was the Cyclones' first win over the Springers since 1994.

Mankato is the defending state champion beating Dundas 8-2 for the title last year.

Paul Fenner (8-1) will get the starting call tonight with Tyler Norland (6-0) set for Game 2 next week should Bemidji get that far.

Hibbing draftee Shaun Ross, a long-time former Mudcat star, will be behind the plate. Jeff Schaper, John Grindeland, Dan Bauer and Neil Huewe will start around the infield from first to third with Tony Klaers, Ryan Johnson Doug Peterson in the outfield from left to right. Sam Anderson will be the designated hitter.

Pitcher Jamie Steinberg of Hibbing was the second Bemidji draft choice.

The Mudcats are 27-8-1 on the year.

Last title in 1977

It has been 32 years since Bemidji won its second title at Wadena in 1977 where the then Bemidji Chiefs won five straight games to claim the Class B title, then destroyed the Class A winner, Mr. Roberts of Minneapolis, the following week to become the state's overall champion.

That game is no longer played with the state now divided into three classes, A, B and C, the Class C tournament for smaller communities.

The '77 champs were led by a pair of stellar lefthanders George Landreth and Andy Kannenberg.

The team finished the Paul Bunyan League season unbeaten, captured the playoff title and took the regional crown with wins over Crookston and Kennedy.

Kannenberg, then a Princeton University junior, hurled a four hitter in the state opener to beat Sobieksi 4-2.

Landreth, an Oklahoma University graduate, gave up 11 hits in eight innings in the second game but kept them well scattered as the Chiefs won over Motley 8-4.

Jim Conway added two hits to the Bemidji attack.

Landreth gem

Landreth came back to go the route in the quarterfinals, a three-hit 2-0 victory over Cold Spring.

Steve Donahue's two-run homer which deflected off a leaping outfielder's glove over the fence, was the Chiefs lone hit of the game.

It came in the last of the seventh to end the game.

That game was a replay of one rained out a day earlier when the Chiefs saw a 3-2 lead washed away.

In the semifinals against potent Red Wing, the Chiefs tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth, matched Red Wing's run in the eighth and won in the ninth 4-3.

Kannenberg worked the first 6 1/3 with draftee Lance Chambers going 1/3 and Landreth coming on to hurl the final 2 1/3 innings to win his third game.

Donahue, Randy Beck and Steve Long had two hits in the Chiefs nine-hit attack. Red Wing had 10.

Conway had driven in a first inning run for a 1-0 lead. Beck doubled in Donahue in the sixth to tie 2-2 and Long's double and Jim Grimm's single made it 3-2 in the eighth.

After Red Wing tied, Landreth singled in the ninth, took third on Beck's one bagger and beat the throw home on Conway's grounder to short.

The thrills go on

Bemidji out slugged St. Augusta 10-7 to take the title in a 10 inning thriller.

Harry Hunt's first home run of the season tied the game at 7-7 in the ninth.

In the tenth, doubles by Donahue and Long sent home the winning run. Long scored on a sacrifice fly and Grimm added the icing to the cake with a solo four master.

Kannenberg, who followed Frank Fairbanks and Landreth to the hill, worked the final four innings, allowing one run, to get his seventh win.

Donahue led a 16 hit attack with five, earning him the tournament's MVP Award.

He went 10-19, playing five different positions and tied the final at 6-6 with a home run.

No contest

The following week's playoff was no contest as the Chiefs blasted Mr. Roberts of Minneapolis 14-0. Landreth hurled a three hitter for his ninth win and Grimm blasted a grand slam.

Conway had three hits and Long, Donahue and Grimm two each in a 12 hit attack.

Jack Fairbanks guided the Chiefs that year to a 25-5 record.

Landreth left the area shortly thereafter to return to Oklahoma and Kannenberg suffered a career ending arm injury and the Chiefs never attained that level again.

Grimm returned for a long, successful career as Chiefs Coach well into the 90's before age took its toll and the team disbanded.

He then guided the American Legion for three seasons before taking over the reins of the BSU baseball program for seven years which he left after the 2002 season.

Conway was high school assistant coach with John Buckanaga for six seasons.

The Chiefs were displaced by the Bemidji Merchants, a team made up of younger players, who have since become the Mudcats.

They appeared in the state in 1996 where they bowed out quickly. Jake Thompson and Joe Burgess guided that team.

They returned again in 1998 under Tony Warno, losing twice to Jordan 7-4 and Dassell-Cokato 8-6.

Robbie Bahr took over the manager's reins in 2000 with Warno becoming general manager.

Scott Seaton became the field manager in 2001.

Virtually all of the '77 champs were graduates of the Bemidji youth ranks and high school program with Donahue, Conway, Hunt, Bob Johnson, Kannenberg, Pete Maus, David Drown, Beck and John Fairbanks all Bemidji Braves grads and Grimm and Frank Fairbanks coming through the Bemidji Bucks and Lions program. All played Legion ball before moving into the amateur ranks.

Long was a BSU performer and Landreth a Sooner.

First title in 1956

The first Bemidji state amateur title came in 1956 at Little Falls when the Chiefs defeated St. Charles in the title game 12-3. They had won earlier over Rockville 4-1, Perham 3-2 and Wheaton 3-1.

Another Johnson, this time the legendary Corky, won the first and fourth games while Bill Lawrence beat Perham and Jerry Daniels, a Cass Lake draftee, won the Wheaton game.

The Chiefs lost their fourth game of the year that summer to Cass Lake and never lost again in finishing 22-1.

Bob Charlton hit two homers and a double to pace the attack in the title game.

Other regulars were Oba Edwards, Dick Lawrence, DarrellErickson, Keith Mooney, Ross Fortier, Bill Hachey and DuWayne Syverson plus Cass Lakers Jamie Eidsmoe and Daniels, both drafted.

Hachey would go on to a long time successful career as Coleraine baseball coach and become a key official in the State High School Baseball Coaches Association.

Johnson spent a year at Minnesota University under Dick Siebert before signing a pro contract and playing six years in the Giants organization, reaching the triple A level at Vancouver in the Pacific Coast League before arm problems ended his career. He was the most successful BHS graduate in the pro ranks until Bryan Hickerson reached the majors in the 1990's, also with the Giants.

Johnson was a long time basketball and baseball coach at Hutchinson, Crosby and Brainerd before entering into private business.

Bill Lawrence also played a season of pro ball with the Tigers organization and remained in the Bemidji area for many years publishing the Obibwe News.

His older brother Dick was a long-time coach and athletic director at Eveleth while Fortier went on to star in football at NDSU and was Moorhead State's grid coach and Athletic Director for a generation.

Both Lawrences and Johnson are members of the Bemidji High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Mooney, a retired California teacher, still spent his summers at Bemidji at his Grace Lake home until his death earlier this year.