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Leadoff hitter jumpstarts Bemidji to victory

Bemidji's Mitchell Hendricks dives into first following an attempted pickoff during Thursday's 7-3 victory over West Fargo. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - Among the jobs of a leadoff hitter is taking a few pitches and extending the count so his teammates can form their own scouting report on the opposing pitcher. The more offerings the leadoff hitter can force the pitcher to throw, the more likely the offense can get a read on what might be coming next.

Bemidji's leadoff hitter, Nick Hovila, has a different approach to his at-bats. He prefers to swing at the first pitch if it's in his zone.

Thursday he employed that approach and the result was a double, single, RBI and a pair of runs which spurred the Lumberjacks to a 7-3 victory over West Fargo on the Bemidji State diamond.

BHS, which is rated fourth in the state according to the QRF rankings, raised its record to 14-1 while West Fargo, the top-rated team in North Dakota, suffered only its fourth loss in 28 outings.

"I like being aggressive and swinging at the first pitch," Hovila said. "And coach (Mike Fogelson) tells me to swing early and see if we can make something good happen right away.

"It's my job to get the team started and I like to do that by swinging," Hovila added.

For one of the rare times this year the Lumberjacks went through the batting order without a hit. They did, however, load the bases in the first inning with the help of three walks.

Packers hurler Zach Steckler was able to wiggle out of the jam and he retired Bemidji in order in the second.

"Sometimes it takes a time through the order for us to adjust but once we do that we can get on a roll," Hovila said. "Coach says that hitting is contagious. When one guy gets a hit we often have everybody getting a hit. That is how we have our four and five-run innings."

In the top of the third, with the game still scoreless, Hovila contributed the hit that sparked the offense. His double to the base of the fence in left-center set the table for what would be a three-run stanza.

Mitchell Hendricks followed with a sacrifice bunt and when Steckler dropped the come-backer, Hendricks was on his way to beating the throw.

Steckler compounded his problems by hurrying a throw to first. The result was a toss that sailed into right field and allowed Hovila to score the game's first run.

Cody Rutledge promptly plated Hendricks with a double to the fence in center and Collin Leif drove in the third run with a single to right.

"Stecker is one of the better pitchers we've seen," Fogelson said. "It took us a while to get the sticks going but we eventually drew first blood."

Bemidji continued its assault in the fourth. Sam Dwyer began the frame with a single to right and, after gaining second on a wild pitch and third on Ryan Hirt's fly ball to right, Dwyer scored courtesy of Hovila's single past third.

Hovila eventually scored when Rutledge ripped his second double of the day, this one a laser shot past the third baseman.

The Lumberjacks used a pair of walks and Hirt's single to center to up their lead to 6-0 in the fifth and Hendricks walked and scored on Cody Jenkins' single in the lower sixth.

West Fargo continually had runners throughout the game but Hirt was able to work his way out of the jams until the final two innings.

In the first frame the Packers loaded the bases but Hirt fanned Ben Huber to escape that situation.

West Fargo also filled the sacks with one out in the third but a pair of strikeouts ended that threat.

"The first three innings could have gone either way," Fogelson said. "Both teams had runners but Ryan did a nice job of getting himself out of trouble. He remained in charge when West Fargo had scoring opportunities.

"This was a big win for us," the coach continued. "West Fargo is ranked No. 1 in North Dakota and is a team that could, potentially, win the North Dakota state championship. I think this is the best team we have faced this year and to come out on top is an accomplishment."

Bemidji will have little time to enjoy Thursday's victory as the Jacks host Duluth East, Grand Forks Red River and Roseau this weekend in the Des Sagedahl Wooden Bat Tournament.

Today's schedule finds Roseau facing Duluth East at 4 p.m. and Bemidji meeting Red River in the second game.

On Saturday Red River will square off with Roseau at 10 a.m. and Bemidji will meet Duluth East around noon.

Red River will face Duluth East about 2:30 p.m. and the Jacks will tangle with Roseau in the finale.

Jenkins is slated to pitch tonight's game while Hendricks and Drew Peterson are scheduled for Saturday.

West Fargo 000 001 2 - 3 9 3

Bemidji 003 211 x - 7 8 0

Stecker (L), Barker (7) and Bucholz. K-5, BB-6

Hirt (W), Hendricks (7) and Leif. K-7, BB-5

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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