PREP SOFTBALL: Good to be Tak: Gabbi Takkunen’s recovery leads Bemidji to best win of season
BEMIDJI -- Last year, a torn ACL kept Gabbi Takkunen from playing the game she loves alongside her Bemidji High School softball teammates.
But Thursday, the junior’s growth was on center stage in the circle.
“It’s taught me so much mental strength. Especially when I’m out pitching, I used to be such a head case,” Takkunen said of her injury. “Battling back every day was such a battle for me. So now going out there and pitching, I don’t get in my head as much because I’ve learned that things take time. Each day, each pitch, you become better and better. Just like with my knee, each day was a process.”
Takkunen’s complete-game gem landed the Lumberjacks a convincing 11-1 win over Brainerd at the BHS softball field, as she all but silenced an unbeaten Warrior offense that had averaged 11.2 runs per game.
“She’s kind of figuring out, ‘Hey, who am I as a pitcher now? I’m not going to blow the ball past people, but if I can keep them off stride and hit my spots, I can be very effective,’ as (she) demonstrated today,” Bemidji head coach Brad Takkunen said. “I think, as a team, we can grow around that, and as a pitcher, she can grow around that.”
Gabbi finished with just three strikeouts, quickly attributing her success to her teammates instead.
“I completely trust my infielders and outfielders behind me to do their jobs. For me, my job is just to hit my spots and trust that they will make the plays,” she said. “I rely on them so much. They are everything to me. If it weren’t for them, I would not be where I am right now.”
The offense spotted her early, as Samantha Edlund and Anikka Takkunen scored in the first inning and Emma Stanoch in the second. Brainerd (10-1) gifted the Lumberjacks (7-4) another two runs in the third on a two-out throwing error, making for a 5-0 game.
“Earlier in the year, we were striking out quite a bit,” coach Takkunen said. “...We’ve got to get the ball in play. We’ve got to keep putting pressure on these kids and make them make plays. And I’ve got to give our girls a ton of credit. Even though they maybe didn’t hit the ball as a base hit, they put the ball in play and made them make plays… They definitely benefited us today, but we’ll take it.”
The drama mounted in the fifth, when, in a 5-1 game and two runners on, Brainerd’s Elaina Christiansen turned on a pitch and launched it toward the left-field foul pole. But the ball hooked foul -- barely -- and Gabbi induced a pop-up and a groundout to escape the jam unscathed.
“We’ve kind of had a bad inning here and there from time to time,” coach Takkunen said. “If that would have been a three-run homer, that would have definitely turned things. It would’ve been a dog fight from there on out, and who knows what would have happened. It was very big that we were able to settle down Gabbi, and she got the next pitch and we got the out.”
The BHS offense silenced any whispers of a comeback from then on, as Makenna Quinn and Maddie Hanson picked up RBI singles in the bottom of the fifth. And in the sixth, when three Warrior errors had one run in and two more Lumberjack runners on the bases, Gracie Fisher belted a three-run shot that served as a mercy-rule, walk-off home run in the 11-1 finish.
“It’s huge for us,” coach Takkunen said of the win. “It doesn't mean, like hey, the season’s over. But Brainerd is a dang good team. They had been (10-0), and we didn’t give them much. And that’s kind of who we have to be.”
“It’s huge for our team,” Gabbi added. “It shows how much potential we have as a whole, that we can play as good as we did. We have a lot of talent, so I’m really excited to see where it takes us.”
Gabbi’s road to recovery next leads the Jacks into Fergus Falls, where Bemidji will take on the Otters at 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 4, in hopes of a fifth straight win.
“(My injury) was so hard because I love this game. This is my passion,” Gabbi said. “To watch from the sidelines and not be able to be a part of it, it was really hard. But I’m really happy to be back. Being able to have the success that we are, it’s huge for me.”
Bemidji 11, Brainerd 1 (6 innings)
BRA 000 100 -- 1-6-8
BEM 212 024 -- 11-7-2
WP: G. Takkunen (CG, 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO)
LP: O. Tautges (3 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 5 SO)