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Bemidji seniors have lots to be proud of this year

The MSHSL awarded Bemidji the Class 3A second place trophy Monday, complete with a team photo on the inside. Matt Steichen | Forum Communications Co.1 / 2
Bemidji's Ryan Hirt throws a pitch during the Class 3A state championship game Monday at Target Field. Matt Steichen | Forum Communications Co.2 / 2

BEMIDJI - Bemidji baseball coach Mike Fogelson and catcher Collin Leif crossed paths on a rainy and dreary Tuesday afternoon. On Monday the coach and player were at Target Field, where the Lumberjacks dropped a 1-0 decision to Eastview of Apple Valley in the state Class 3A championship game.

During Tuesday's conversation Leif described how he felt the day after that emotional setback, a loss that gave the Jacks an enviable 25-3 overall record, but a loss that also denied the team the championship all of the players and coaches desperately wanted.

"The weather describes things perfectly. It is dark. It is cloudy. That's how I feel," Leif told his coach.

Fogelson shared that reaction.

"Tuesday was a day when all you felt like doing was taking a nap," Fogelson said. "And that describes how we feel today."

Behind Tuesday's heavy clouds, however, the sun was shining. And the sun will return for the Lumberjacks and their fans.

"It was a pretty somber bus ride home from Minneapolis on Monday night," Fogelson admitted. "But the closer we got to Bemidji, the more the kids livened up. The kids are resilient. They are bummed but they will refocus on what lies ahead."

When Eastview pitcher Evan DeCovich coaxed Cody Jenkins to fly to center for Monday's final out, the Lumberjacks were shocked.

"We didn't see that coming," Sam Dwyer said.

For some of the players, Monday's loss was the second they suffered in a state championship game during the 2011-12 school year. Last fall the Lumberjacks lost to Rocori in the state football Class 4A title game.

"The guys wanted to win state, especially those who were on that football team," Fogelson said. "On two occasions those guys had high goals that included a state championship, and both times they came very close.

"This group of baseball players really wanted to come home with the state championship. They wanted to do that for the team. They wanted to do that for their school and they wanted to do that for their community," Fogelson continued.

The players in uniform at Target Field Monday combined to create a team that is a coach's dream. On the field they knew how to play the game. In the dugout and off the field they knew they belonged to a special fraternity.

Leading the way were seniors Mason Bellew, Mitchell Hendricks, Dwyer, Jordan Sweep, Nick Conner, Cody Jenkins, Cody Rutledge and Leif.

"When these seniors became part of the program three or four years ago I remember thinking that this bunch could challenge for a state championship," Fogelson said. "And four years later they did exactly that.

"I've never had so many true baseball players in one class and I think, down the road, you'll see some of these players become Hall of Famers at Bemidji High School. These guys are great baseball players but the best thing about these kids is their chemistry. This is a close-knit group of guys."

Monday's game marked the official end to a very successful 2011-12 athletic year at BHS. It began with a trip to the Class 4A football championship game at the Metrodome against Rocori and climaxed with the baseball team facing Eastview for the Class 3A crown.

"It was a year that every Bemidji fan will always remember," Fogelson said. "There was a lot of cool stuff that happened during the past year. There were many successes. There was great fan support and there was great effort by the athletes.

"What a year everybody had."

NOTES: The 25 wins is the most any BHS team has recorded in a single campaign ...

The high school season for seniors Collin Leif and Cody Rutledge is not quite over. The Lumberjacks will be in Chaska Friday and Saturday representing the North squad in the 38th annual Lions All-Star tournament. At 7 p.m. Friday the North will play the Metro West while Saturday's schedule sees the North facing Metro East at 10 a.m. and the South at 3 p.m. Last year Tyler Follis represented the Jacks but this is the first time BHS has sent two players to the Lions tournament ...

Bemidji juniors Nick Hovila, Connor McNallan, Mitch Buckanaga, Cody Labernik and Drew Peterson also will be busy this week as they will head to Burnsville today and Thursday to perform in front of college and professional scouts at the Minnesota Junior Showcase.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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