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Lumberjacks hold on: Big defensive stand lifts Bemidji softball past Alexandria in Section 8-3A playoffs

Bemidji’s Heather Olson is safe at third after tagging on a sacrifice fly against Alexandria Wednesday afternoon. The Lumberjacks held on to defeat the Cardinals 7-6. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
Bemidji pitcher Monica Wittner throws against Alexandra during Wednesday's Section 8-3A playoff game at the BHS softball diamond. The Lumberjacks won 7-6.2 / 2

BEMIDJI — During Wednesday’s Section 8-3A tournament game Bemidji and Alexandria both had many opportunities to take charge. Both offenses were potent and both pitchers had their moments in the sun.

After six innings the Lumberjacks managed a 7-6 lead when they tallied a run in the sixth but the advantage was tenuous on this blustery afternoon, especially after the Cardinals loaded the bases with no one out in the top of the seventh.

“We knew what was on the line after Alexandria loaded the bases,” said BHS coach Brad Takkunen. “We knew we had to make the plays.”

With the game on the line the Jacks rose to the occasion. Pitcher Monica Wittner hit her spots, her defense came through and Bemidji hung on for a 7-6 victory.

Wednesday’s win vaults the fourth-seeded Lumberjacks into the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament. Their next challenge will come 2 p.m. Monday when they travel to Brainerd to take on the top-seeded Warriors.

Bemidji will worry about Brainerd in a few days. Wednesday they were enjoying the moment.

“The girls came to compete and that is all a coach can ask for,” Takkunen said of Wednesday’s performance. “This game showed the kids that they should never give up and giving up is something we haven’t done all year.”

The game was a see-saw battle from the start but the outcome came down to the defensive stand at the top of the seventh.

With BHS leading 7-6 Alexandria used a single, an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt and a walk to load the bases. But Wittner and the defense played perfect situational softball to deny the fifth-seeded Cardinals.

With the sacks filled Emily Kuennen sent a fly ball to right field but Annika Johnson’s catch and perfect throw to the plate eliminated any chance of Carly Dropik tagging and scoring from third.

Amy Jost followed with a 2-hopper to BHS first baseman Sylvia Grimm and the junior watched the ball into her glove and threw a strike to catcher Abby Hinrichs for the force at home for the second out of the inning.

The bases were still loaded when McKenzie Revering sent a high pop to Mariah Dahl at second base. Dahl immediately found the ball, moved into position and made the catch to preserve Bemidji’s victory.

“Monica had to hit her spots at the end and she did,” Takkunen said about the seventh inning. “Defensively, Annika was ready to make the catch and the throw for the first out. Sylvia was right on the money with her throw to home, and everyone who has played the game knows that there is no such thing as a routine pop fly when there are two outs and the bases loaded.

“When we needed it the most our defense came through.”

A sign of how potent the offenses would be surfaced from the outset when each team’s leadoff hitter blasted a pitch over the left-center fence on another windy, overcast and cold afternoon.

Taylor Ellingson led off the game with her round-tripper and Hanna Olson duplicated the feat to start the bottom of the first.

Alexandria used a pair of walks and a double to take a 2-1 lead in the second but the Lumberjacks countered with four in their half of the stanza. Wittner began the rally with a double and promptly scored courtesy of Karman Clark’s single. The inning also featured a pair of wild pitches, a walk, a free base to Hanna Olson when the defense froze on a play and Jordyn Follis’ 2-run double.

The Jacks upped their cushion to 6-2 in the third when Tori Koch singled, advanced on Wittner’s ground ball and scored with the help of an error.

But Alexandria used the long-ball to tie the game in the upper sixth. Sarah Bruzek opened the stanza with a home run to center and, after a pair of singles, Anna Lee sent a Wittner fastball over the centerfield screen for a 3-run home run.

BHS regained the lead with a solo run in the lower sixth as Heather Olson singled, stole second, gained third on Grimm’s grounder to the right side and scored when Hinrichs singled to center.

That run provided a 7-6 lead and set the stage for the defensive heroics in the seventh.

“This was as well as we have played all year and we’re excited to go to Brainerd on Monday,” Takkunen said. “Brainerd is the section’s dominant team and we really have nothing to lose. We aren’t expected to go to state so we can have fun, relax, play our game and see what happens.”

Alexandria advanced to its date with Bemidji by eliminating Sartell 10-0 earlier Wednesday in Bemidji. Brainerd thumped Moorhead 13-1 after Moorhead ousted St. Cloud Apollo.

Bemidji 7, Alexandria 6

Alexandria 110 004 0 - 6 7 4

Bemidji 141 001 x - 7 7 1

Ellingson (L) and Revering. K-6, BB-3

Wittner (W) and Hinrichs. K-3, BB-5

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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