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Bemidji baseball team defeats Alexandria in section championship, advances to state tournament

Bemidji's Legion baseball team was supposed to host Thief River Falls tonight in its season opener. That game, and most likely a few others, will have to be postponed, however, as the high school team is still enjoying its campaign.

Wednesday night in St. Cloud the seventh-seeded Lumberjacks climaxed an unlikely run through the Section 8-3A playoffs by downing No. 3 Alexandria 4-1 in the championship game. In addition to claiming the section crown BHS earned a berth in the Class 3-A state tournament and a date with Section 3 champion Burnsville 10 a.m. on June 16 at Midway Stadium in St. Paul.

"Based on our seed nobody expected us to accomplish this but at the start of the year we felt that we could do it," said BHS coach Mike Fogelson. "It's been a goal of ours and we needed to do a lot of hard work to get this done."

Bemidji will be making its record-tying 19th state tournament appearance but its first since 1991. Also with 19 state trips are Austin, New Ulm and St. Paul Cretin. New Ulm will shoot for its 20th today when it plays in the Section 3-2A final.

"Tying for the all-time lead in state tournament appearances is neat," Fogelson said. "And we're happy to be the first Bemidji team in 20 years to get here."

Alexandria was trying to reach the state for the first time since 1974 but the Cardinals' return will have to wait at least one more year.

The Lumberjacks claimed the crown the hard way as they clawed through the loser's bracket of the double-elimination event after falling to Alexandria 7-3 Saturday night.

On Tuesday Bemidji defeated Sauk Rapids 5-2 in an elimination game and also handed Alexandria its first tournament loss by pasting the Cardinals 14-1.

That victory was the prelude to Wednesday's rematch and the Jacks were ready for the rubber game.

"Even though we weren't given much of a chance to win the section the kids wanted to prove that we could get the job done," Fogelson said.

A potent offense and effective pitching have spearheaded Bemidji throughout the playoffs and those weapons were on display Wednesday. Collin Leif provided the early spark as he lofted a pitch over the right-field screen for a solo home run in the top of the first.

Later in the inning Cody Jenkins and Cody Rutledge singled but they did not advance past first and second.

Infield singles by Zach Solheim, who also drew the pitching assignment, and Jeremiah Graves led to a run in the upper second. An error moved pinch runner Sam Dwyer to third and Dom Hayle plated him with a double-play ground ball.

Leif initiated another productive inning in the third with a single. Nick Hovila came in to run and he didn't need to expend much energy on the base paths as Tyler Follis promptly ripped a long home run to right for a 4-0 lead.

"We like to be in front and we came out and quickly scored some runs," Fogelson said. "And Zach was on cruise control."

He yielded only one single through the first three innings and, although Alexandria managed five more hits in the final four frames, the Cardinals could muster only one run.

The tally came in the fourth on the strength of two singles, a bunt and a grounder.

Alexandria had runners on first and second with two down in the fifth but failed to score and Eric Carlson's double to begin the sixth was wasted.

Solheim was at his best in the final stanza as he coaxed Erich Murphy to hit a weak ground ball and retired Chris Curry and Chris Vogeler on foul pop-ups to close the game.

"Zach and Collin (the catcher) worked very well together and they kept Alexandria's good hitters off balance the entire game," Fogelson said. "Zach was in command all the way but he saved his best for last."

Bemidji will take an 18-9 record into the state tournament while Alexandria finished at 15-10.

"We have eight days to get ready for Burnsville so there are a couple of days to enjoy what has happened," the coach said. "We will celebrate what we've accomplished because we remember what we had to do to get to this point.

"But our ultimate goal is to get to Target Field and the state championship game and in the next few days we'll start working on that."

Section 8-3A Championship

Bemidji 4, Alexandria 1

Bemidji 112 000 0 - 4 8 0

Alexandria 000 100 0 - 1 6 1

Solheim (W 7-2) and Leif. K-3, BB-1

Nelson (L), Anderson (3) and Domine. K-3, BB-3

State Tournament Pairings

First Round

June 16, Midway Stadium in St. Paul

Game 1: Bemidji vs. Burnsville, 10 a.m.

Game 2: Rochester Century vs. Section 2 champion, 12:30 p.m.

Game 3: Section 5 champion vs. Section 6 champion, 3 p.m.

Game 4: Stillwater vs. Section 7 champion, 5:30 p.m.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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