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SOFTBALL: Bemidji tops Brainerd in 13-inning thriller before falling to Elk River in section 8-3A title game

Mariah Dahl takes the advice of coach Brad Takkunen and heads for home during Thursday’s 3-2 13-inning victory over Brainerd. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — After reaching the Section 8-3A title game in the most dramatic way possible, the Bemidji High School softball team saw its season end all too soon Thursday afternoon.

Jess Yost’s double off the wall in the 13th inning gave the Lumberjacks a 3-2 victory over Brainerd. But Bemidji couldn’t keep that momentum going in the title game.

Elk River blanked Bemidji 5-0 in the nightcap, winning the section title and advancing to state.

“We just wanted to get to the championship series and see what happened,” BHS head coach Brad Takkunen said. “We didn’t want to have to play two games in one there but that happens when you have two good teams.

“Elk River is a good team, too. They were the better team today.”

The Lumberjacks finish 20-5, their best season in more than 10 years.

In the first game, Bemidji and Brainerd were facing off in a rematch of Monday’s quarterfinal contest. The Warriors (13-7) won that matchup 7-4.

Brainerd lost to Elk River 7-0 in the semifinals Wednesday. Bemidji won both of its losers bracket games to get to the winner-take-all elimination game and the right to face Elk River in the title game.

Neither team budged an inch.

Brainerd scored in the top of the first, after Bemidji hurler Jess Yost hit Maria West with a pitch.

West came around to score with a pair of singles and made it 1-0.

However, Yost was able to get out of that jam and the Bemidji offense took a 2-1 lead a few innings later.

In the fourth inning, Yost led off with a double and moved to third with Mariah Dahl’s single.

Brianna Neumann drove both of them home with a double of her own to give Bemidji the lead.

Brainerd answered in the top of the fifth.

Bailey O’Hotto reached on an error, stole second and third, then came around to score on West’s sacrifice fly.

That would be the only scoring for a while, as both Yost and Brainerd hurler Maddie Franz stonewalled the opposing offenses.

The Warriors had their best chance to score in the eighth inning, when West singled and reached third on Sara Wennerstand’s single.

With two outs, Yost struck out Mikeala Chandler but the pitch was low and Bemidji catcher Courtney Black couldn’t get to it. West ran home to try and score but Black found the ball and fired it to Yost, who tagged West for the inning-ending out.

In the 13th inning, Brainerd had runners on second and third with nobody out but Yost got a strikeout and had help from her defense to get out of the inning. Annika Johnson dove to catch a soft line drive to second for out No. 2 while Black ran into the fence and caught a pop-up behind the plate for the third out.

In Bemidji’s half of the 13th, Yost won the game with her two-out double, scoring Hannah Olson from first.

“The girls had upwards of six at-bats today,” Takkunen said. “Both teams had their chances. That was a good game. The girls kept fighting and got the win.”

Yost led the offense in game one, going 4-for-5 with two doubles, a walk, a run scored and an RBI. Neumann also went 2-for-4 with a single, a double and two RBIs.

In the second game, Yost was back on the mound again — she ended up pitching all 41 innings the Lumberjacks played this week.

Unfortunately for Bemidji, Elk River was completely rested and jumped on Yost early.

The Elks (18-3) manufactured a run in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead.

That turned out to be all they’d need. Elk River pitcher Anna Pipenhagen tossed a two-hitter against Bemidji. She struck out 12, walked only two and only allowed three runners to get past first base.

“She had a lot of balls up in the zone that were hard for us to lay off of,” Takkunen said. “She’s a really good pitcher.”

Bemidji had its best chance to score in the second inning.

Jordyn Follis singled with two outs, reached second after Dahl’s walk and made it to third after Pipenhagen threw a rare wild pitch to Neumann.

That put runners on second and third for Bemidji but Neumann struck out to end the threat.

Elk River put it out of reach late in the game. Jamye Langbehn hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to dead center field to make it 3-0 and the Elks scored twice more in the fifth inning.

“We were in that game for a while,” Takkunen said. “They kind of put it away with that home run there.”

Yost pitched a total of 20 innings Thursday. In the first game she struck out 13, walked one and gave up 11 hits.

Against Elk River she took the loss, giving up all five runs (three earned) on six hits.

“That season came and went on us pretty quickly,” Takkunen said. “It was kind of fast and furious but all around the kids had a great season and build a great foundation for the program.”

NOTE: Black was injured in the sixth inning of the second game following an Elk River suicide squeeze attempt.

Yost picked up the bunt attempt and tossed it to Black, whose cleats appeared to get stuck on home plate.

The runner was called out but Black immediately went down in pain and had to be helped off the field.

Takkunen said he thinks Black, a senior, broke her leg but wasn’t sure of the exact diagnosis.

“It was a tough way for her to end her senior season,” he said. “But she’s a tough kid. She’ll bounce back.”

Bemidji 3, Brainerd 2 (13 inns)

Brainerd 100 010 000 000 0 – 2 11 5

Bemidji 000 200 000 000 1 – 3 8 2

Franz (L) and Wennerstand. K-7, BB-1.

Yost (W) and Black. K-13, BB-1.

Elk River 5, Bemidji 0

Elk River 100 220 0 – 5 6 0

Bemidji 000 000 0 – 0 2 3

Pipenhagen (W) and Bruns. K-12, BB-3.

Yost (L) and Black, Conkle (7). K-2, BB-2.

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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