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Bemidji baseball team stays alive, will play for Section 8-3A title and a trip to state

The Bemidji baseball team is one game away from the state tournament and 7 p.m. today the Lumberjacks will return to St. Cloud to face Alexandria with that state berth on the line.

Bemidji's path to tonight's contest included a pair of must-win victories on Tuesday.

In an elimination game against Sauk Rapids BHS outslugged the Storm 11-6 and Tuesday night the Jacks stayed alive in the Section 8-3A tournament by pounding previously unbeaten Alexandria 14-1.

That outcome reversed Saturday's 7-3 loss to the Cardinals and each team now is in the same position in the double-elimination tournament. Tonight's winner in the rubber match will claim the championship.

"We've evened things out," said BHS coach Mike Fogelson. "There is a world of difference in where we were sitting when we boarded the bus Tuesday to come to St. Cloud to where we are now. We're seven innings from state."

Jeremiah Graves went the distance on the mound against Alexandria and pitched a gem. The Cardinals managed only one run which came on a bloop double to short left, a sacrifice bunt and a groundout.

"You can't discount what Jeremiah has done in these playoffs," Fogelson said. "He came in against Brainerd, went 3.2 innings and was the winning pitcher. Tuesday we gave him the ball and he neutralized Alexandria.

"He utilized four different pitches and mixed them to the point where Alexandria didn't know what was coming. We felt this was a good match-up for us and Jeremiah proved us right," Fogelson added.

Graves was in complete control as he threw strikes and allowed his defense to do the work. The senior finished with five strikeouts and only two walks.

The Jacks spotted Alexandria a 1-0 lead in the second but they began to take control in the third. Spearheading the charge was Cody Rutledge who had a spectacular day with seven hits, five runs scored and six RBI in the two games.

Among the hits was a grand slam in the third inning against Alexandria, a blast which lit the fire under the BHS offense.

Mitchell Hendricks doubled with two out in the fourth and scored courtesy of Collin Leif's single to up Bemidji's cushion to 5-1 and, after scoring twice in the sixth, the Lumberjacks exploded for seven runs on seven hits in the top of the seventh.

Rutledge started that flurry with a triple and before Alexandria knew what happened Mason Bellew, Sam Dwyer, Dom Hayle, Tyler Follis and Cody Jenkins each had singles and Bellew a two-run double.

Bemidji advanced to the rematch with Alexandria by eliminating Sauk Rapids earlier Tuesday.

A pair of two-run round-trippers courtesy of Follis and Bellew gave the Jacks a 4-0 advantage in the opening inning and Bemidji never looked back.

Despite expanding the cushion to 7-1 in the third inning, however, the lead was not safe as the Storm worked their way back into contention at 7-6 with a five-run third.

But Bemidji's defense, which gave Sauk Rapids three of those third-inning runs through errors, played solid baseball the rest of the way while the offense continued to produce.

The Jacks scored three in the fourth and one in the fifth to regain the momentum and ice the victory.

BHS didn't waste any time unleashing its 15-hit attack. With one out in the first Leif walked and Follis delivered his shot over the left-field fence. An out later Rutledge collected the first of his four hits with a single and Bellew followed with his home run to left to put the Jacks on top 4-0.

After Alexandria answered with a run in the lower first Bemidji countered with a pair as Hendricks doubled, Leif tripled and pinch-runner Nick Hovila scored on a wild pitch.

Rutledge's double and Zach Solheim's triple upped Bemidji's advantage to 7-1 in the upper third but the Storm closed the gap to 7-6 in their half of the stanza with the key blow being Alex Schueller's grand slam off starting pitcher Ryan Stevens.

The Jacks responded with three in the fourth on RBI doubles by Jenkins and Rutledge and they closed the scoring in the fifth as Solheim doubled and eventually scored on a double-play ball.

Stevens went 6+ innings to earn the victory and Follis tossed the final two. The pair combined to strike out three and walk five.

Rutledge paced the offense with two doubles and two singles. Follis had a triple and a home run, Solheim a double and a triple and Leif a triple and a single.

"In both games on Tuesday we hit like we've been talking about all spring," Fogelson said. "We found our intensity level. We were focused and relaxed. We were on a mission Tuesday and the guys came through.

"You could go right down the line talking about our offense. Mitchell had five hits, Collin had six and Cody Rutledge seven. Everybody did the job," the coach added."

Bemidji hopes to continue that level of play in today's championship game.

"On Tuesday our goal was to get to Wednesday and now we are there," Fogelson said. "We've evened the series and now it is up for grabs. We're excited to be here and I think it's going to be fun (tonight)."

Elimination Game

Bemidji 421 310 0 - 11 15 3

Sauk Rapids 105 000 0 - 6 12 3

Stevens (W), Follis (6) and Leif. K-3, BB-5

DeGagne (L), Wippler (2), Chapa (4) and Bjork. K-4, BB-2

(Sauk Rapids eliminated)

Championship Series

Bemidji 004 102 7 - 14 18 1

Alexandria 010 000 0 - 1 4 0

Graves (W) and Leif. K-5, BB-2

Hirsch (L), Knoblauch (6), Anderson (6) and Beireis. K-10, BB-1

Today's Championship Game

Bemidji vs. Alexandria, 7 p.m. at St. Cloud Sports Complex

NOTE: Winner will represent Section 8-3A at state tournament

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200