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Bemidji wins state opener

Trent Baker delivered a pitch during the first inning of Thursday's state VFW baseball tournament opener in Austin. Photo special to the Pioneer, Eric Johnson/Austin Daily Herald

A 10-day layoff did not adversely affect the Bemidji VFW offense during the first round of the state tournament Thursday in Austin.

The Vets turned six first-inning hits into as many runs and continued that torrid pace the rest of the way. When the dust settled Bemidji outgunned Forest Lake 17-10 and advanced to today's second round in the double-elimination tournament and a match-up against either St. Paul RanView or Proctor.

Those teams met Thursday evening and the winner will face Bemidji at 2 p.m. today.

"We hammered the ball," said VFW coach Brad Johnson. "It's been 10 days since we played and we were a little nervous at the start. It didn't help our pitchers that the strike zone was about the size of a nickel but it was that way for both sides.

"And from an offensive standpoint, that small of a strike zone was great," Johnson said.

The Vets pounded four different Forest Lake hurlers for 18 hits. Nick Hovila had four of them, including a triple and a single in the first inning.

"Nick had three hits in the first two innings," Johnson said. "He had a terrific game."

After scoring six runs in the opening frame Bemidji continued its relentless attack and upped the lead to 11-0 with five in the second. Forest Lake, however, answered with three in its half of the frame but Bemidji matched that output in the top of the third.

Forest Lake took advantage of a series of walks to score five in the lower third and trail 14-8 but it would get no closer down the stretch.

"It was good to get our bats going so well early in the game," Johnson said. "Everyone ripped the ball and that enabled us to take charge from the beginning."

Hovila opened the game with a triple and Mason Bellew promptly singled him home. The first inning also featured singles by Collin Leif, Connor McNallan, Nick Conner and Hovila plus walks to Drew Peterson and Sam Dwyer.

Cody Jenkins singled and stole a base to begin the second stanza and before the Vets were retired they would score five runs with the help of singles by McNallan, Peterson, Conner and Hovila plus another walk to Dwyer.

Consecutive singles by Leif, Ryan Hirt and Jenkins set the table for three runs in the third and driving them in were Peterson who walked, Dwyer who was hit by a pitch and Conner who belted a sacrifice fly.

McNallan doubled and scored in the fifth while Peterson walked and scored courtesy of Conner's groundout later in the frame.

Bemidji put the exclamation point to its offensive eruption in the sixth when Leif doubled and Hirt singled him home.

Trent Baker opened on the Bemidji mound and had trouble adjusting to the tight strike zone. Hirt relieved Baker in the third inning and earned the victory.

"Trent was disappointed with his day but he said he wanted to get right back on the mound," Johnson said. "And we're going to start him again Friday."

If Bemidji wins in today's afternoon round it will gain the winner's bracket final and be off until 1 p.m. Saturday.

If the Vets lose this afternoon they will return to duty 7:30 p.m. today in an elimination game.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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