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Bats go cold for Panthers in elimination game

Cass Lake-Bena's Ben Ruzek slides in safely as Sacred Heart's catcher Dominic Mangio receives a late throw during fourth inning play on Tuesday evening. Sacred Heart topped Cass Lake 9-3 in the elimination game, ending Cass Lake's season. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- Cass Lake-Bena starter Wesley Moe didn't have his best stuff Tuesday night. Neither did Corey Roach, his East Grand Forks Sacred Heart counterpart.

That didn't seem to matter for much of the teams' Section 8-A loser's bracket game at Bemidji State. Both offenses went cold for the better part of six innings, and it wasn't until the seventh that Sacred Heart, already up 3-1, slammed the door shut on CL-B.

The Eagles scored six runs on six hits and an error to turn what was once a close -- if not a little messy -- game into a 9-3 rout, helping the Eagles move on to a final losers' bracket game Tuesday night.

The Eagles fell to Red Lake County 6-4, but wouldn't have gotten there without a gritty start from a pitcher in Roach who wasn't throwing his best stuff.

"Corey's been one of our top pitchers," Sacred Heart coach Craig Pietruszewski said. "He didn't have maybe his best stuff today, or his best command, but he gutted it out, he battled through and made quality pitches when he had to."

Roach only gave up one hit in 6 1/3 innings for the Eagles (18-7), but got himself into trouble with baserunners in every inning.

Eight walks in a game will cause trouble - but only if the other team capitalizes on them.

The Panthers (12-11) didn't.

"Well, we got one-hit through six innings and just couldn't get the big hit," CL-B head coach Kenny Wittner said. "That's the name of the game."

Three innings in which the Panthers failed to get runners home with less than two outs would have frustrated any team.

But the fifth inning might have been their best shot to shift the momentum their way.

With the Panthers down 3-1, Danny Fredrickson started the inning when he reached on a dropped third strike. Caleb Fisher then walked to put two on with none out. Although Roach struck out Jake Ellis looking, he walked Daven Staples on five pitches to load the bases with just one out.

But Roach struck out Moe for the second out then Ben Ruzek grounded harmlessly to second to end the threat.

CL-B had another chance in the sixth, with a leadoff runner, but a double play ball killed the rally.

Sacred Heart's aerial assault in the top of the seventh -- one that included two screaming line drives from Roach -- effectively ended the game, giving the Eagles some much-needed insurance after scoring twice in the third and once in the fourth to take the lead.

In all, Roach helped himself nicely, reaching base four times on a double and a single, scoring twice. Zach Hout also went 3-for-5 for the Eagles, driving in three runs, to lead the Eagles at the plate.

"We played very good defense today," Pietruszewski said. "What's been really up and down recently are our bats."

He said they were glad that they took advantage of Moe's seventh-inning struggles.

"Every pitcher has their issues, whether they're on or off, and when a pitcher's off we've gotta find a way to get to him," he said. "I was happy that we were able to bring some at bats together and hit it back to back."

Moe gave up one run in the seventh then managed to get two outs. Then the Eagles pounced on him for two more runs, loading the bases before he was removed.

All three runners came around before the Panthers could get the last out.

CL-B scored twice in its half of the inning (on a Fisher walk and an Ellis triple) before Zak Kuzina came in to get the final two outs.

"I don't know what to say. They're a good team," Wittner said of Sacred Heart. "But I told the kids to keep their heads up because they've done a great job this season. This senior bunch won over 77 games and made the section tournament six years in a row. Not many programs can say that."

Sacred Heart 9, Cass Lake-Bena 3

SH 002 100 6 - 9 12 1

CL-B 001 000 2 - 3 3 3

Roach (W), Kuzina (7) and Mangino. K-6, BB-8.

Moe (L), Fisher (7) and Ellis. K-4, BB-4.

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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