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Baseball: Legion wins three of five games at Gopher Classic

MINNETONKA -- A year ago the Bemidji Legion baseball team went 0-5 at the prestigious Gopher Classic tournament but participating in the event was the shot in the arm the Legion needed.

"Playing against tough teams like those you face at the Gopher Classic, especially late in the regular season, helps prepare you for the postseason," said Bemidji coach Nate Blumhagen. "Even though we didn't win a game at the Gopher Classic last summer we became a better team."

The Legion transferred the lessons learned at the Gopher Classic into a postseason run that saw Bemidji advance to the sub-state title game against Alexandria. Seeded seventh in the eight-team field prior to the sub-state action, the Legion played its best when it counted the most and was one game away from advancing to the state tournament.

Last weekend the Legion fared much better at the 2014 Gopher Classic, winning three of five games and finishing tied for second in its six-team pool.

"We played very well in four of our five games," Blumhagen said. "We came away from the Gopher Classic feeling very good about how we played and what can happen during the rest of the season."

The Gopher Classic is divided into 16 pools of six teams. Bemidji was paired with Excelsior (Minnetonka High School), Plymouth (Ind.), Rochester Redhawks, Huron (S.D.) and Tri-City Blue (St. Anthony area). On Friday the Legion blistered Tri-City 6-1 and on Saturday it thumped Huron 6-2 before falling 2-1 to Excelsior which is ranked No. 1 in the state's Legion baseball poll.

On Sunday Bemidji closed its tourney with a 7-2 loss to Plymouth and a 4-1 victory over Rochester.

The highlight of the weekend was the loss to Excelsior. Both teams rose to the occasion and runs were at a premium.

Ryan Hirt took the mound for Bemidji while David Cushing was his counterpart for Excelsior. Neither team could break into the scoring column until the upper sixth when Bemidji turned a triple by Collin Rutledge and Connor McNallan's ground ball into a run.

Excelsior managed only five hits off Hirt but two of them -- a single and a home run to left -- came in the lower sixth.

The blast, which sailed over the fence at the 320-foot mark, proved to be the difference as Excelsior hung on for the 2-1 win.

"It was a great atmosphere for a game and it was a great game," Blumhagen said. "It was a matchup against the top team in the state and one of the best pitchers in the state. And we were one pitch away from winning the game."

Earlier Saturday the Legion rallied with six runs in the top of the fifth to trim Huron 6-2. The decisive stanza included walks to Lucas Goins, Dan Johnson, Thomas Revering and Hirt, Matt Morgan's sacrifice bunt, an error on a grounder hit by James Hendricks and RBI ground balls off the bats of McNallan and Tony Geerdes.

Rutledge went the distance on the Bemidji mound and allowed only one hit. In Rutledge's last two outings opponents have managed only two singles in 13.1 innings.

In Sunday's action the Legion lost 7-2 to Plymouth in the early-morning round but bounced back with a 4-1 triumph over Rochester in the afternoon session.

"I think we were a little tired against Plymouth," Blumhagen said. "We had to play at 9 a.m. and that was less than 10 hours after we played a very tough Excelsior team. We gave up four runs in the first inning and really couldn't do much against Plymouth's pitcher."

The Legion scored its two runs in the lower sixth when Seth Anderson was hit by a pitch and Revering raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run when the Plymouth centerfielder missed on a shoestring dive and the ball bounded behind him.

"Tom is pretty fast and he scored standing up," Blumhagen said.

Morgan was the winning pitcher in the finale against Rochester as he allowed one run on four hits. Bemidji took a 2-0 edge in the opening inning and added two in the fourth. Erik Fitzgerald reached on an error in the first stanza and, after being balked to second, scored courtesy of McNallan's single. McNallan eventually scored when Hirt grounded out.

In the fourth inning Hendricks singled, Morgan doubled him to third and Tony Geerdes followed with an RBI single. Fitzgerald's ground ball plated Morgan with the final run.

The Legion improved to 7-9 and will hope to continue its momentum Thursday when it entertains Perham in a doubleheader starting at 5 p.m.

Gopher Classic

Excelsior Pool

Excelsior 5-0, Bemidji 3-2, Plymouth (Ind.) 3-2, Rochester 3-2, Huron (S.D.) 1-4, Tri-City Blue 0-5

Bemidji's Results

Friday's Game

Tri-City 000 100 0 - 1 5 3

Bemidji 330 000 x - 6 7 1

Kroening (L) and Bernardy. K-2, BB-2

McNallan (W), Revering (4, S) and Revering, Morgan (4). K-7, BB-1

Saturday's Games

Bemidji 000 060 0 - 6 4 1

Huron 200 000 0 - 2 1 2

Rutledge (W) and Revering. K-7, BB-5

Johnson (L), Bochen (5) and Theis. K-0, BB-6

Bemidji 000 001 0 - 1 4 0

Excelsior 000 002 x - 2 5 1

Hirt (L) and Revering. K-4, BB-1

Cushing (W) and Powell. K-1, BB-2

Sunday's Games

Plymouth 400 102 0 - 7 9 1

Bemidji 000 002 0 - 2 2 4

Davidson (W) and Hampton. K-5, BB-1

McNallan (L) and Revering. K-3, BB-1

Rochester 001 000 0 - 1 4 3

Bemidji 200 200 x - 4 5 0

Morgan (W) and Revering. K-1, BB-3

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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