BEMIDJI -- Thursday was an opportunity to iron out some kinks for the Bemidji American Legion baseball team.
The Centaurs hosted Thief River Falls at the BSU baseball field, where they fell 4-2 before following with a 7-6 win to split an Opening Day doubleheader.
“I think mostly game one, but a little of game two, I saw a lot of rust and then a lot of nerves,” Bemidji head coach Nate Blumhagen said. “It’s a different-looking lineup out there than what we’ve been used to all spring. It’s good in the same way because this is going to be our future.”
The summer season features plenty of new faces compared to the high school team that took second in last week’s Section 8-3A Tournament. As a result, Blumhagen sees a team with a higher ceiling than most.
“(Our goals are) always play hard and always get better,” he said. “We know that there will be days when we show up to the field and we won’t have the experience that other teams have. … But we feel like we’ve got more room to grow than maybe anybody else that we’ll play this year.”
In game one of Thursday’s twinbill, Thief River Falls did its damage in the third inning. Bemidji opened the scoring when JD Kondos came in on a bases-loaded walk in the first, but the Bandits stole the lead when Grant Hartman doubled in two as part of a four-run third.
Bemidji scraped across one more run -- Grant DeClusin scoring on an Aaron Heger single -- but the Centaurs went quietly in the seventh for the 4-2 loss.
“A lot of kids are out there in their first varsity-level start,” Blumhagen said. “They haven’t played a meaningful baseball game in close to three weeks. It’s hard to just step in against pitching that’s probably even better than you’ve seen all season.”
TRF kept rolling in the first inning of game two. Hunter Tabbat put the Centaurs in a 2-0 hole with a two-run single, but then Bemidji’s bats finally woke up.
Colten Uhlenhopp started the rally with an RBI single, Josh Nyberg added a sacrifice fly and then Uhlenhopp scored on a crafty swim move on a slide into home plate.
The flurry put the Centaurs ahead, and they added two more an inning later. Henry Michalicek turned on a pitch for an RBI double down the right-field line, and he scored on an error that made it 5-2.
Josh Nyberg tattooed a solo home run to left in the fourth inning, which made for a 6-3 game.
Thief River Falls threatened in the sixth, scoring one and putting the tying run on second base, but Isaiah Biehn entered in relief and escaped further damage.
Bemidji got the run back when Kondos beat out an infield single for an RBI in the home sixth. And then in the seventh, the Bandits plated two and had the tying run on second, but Colby Carlson charged a soft grounder for a game-ending 5-3 groundout.
“Really, I liked the way that we played defense,” Blumhagen said. “Aside from missing a couple cuts at the end of the game to let them back in… we played very sound. It was (Brandon) Lussier’s first start at short and he made plays. (DeClusin) hasn’t played at second for an entire season and guys were playing all over, trying to get it done.”
The Centaurs will carry a 1-1 record into Moorhead, where they’ll next play a doubleheader at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 18. It will also serve as the next chance to keep working out early-season kinks.
“We want to make sure that, if nothing else, we fulfill (our goals): by the end of the year, that we’ll have more growth than anybody else,” Blumhagen said. “If we do that, I think we have a chance to compete.”
Thief River Falls 4, Bemidji 2
TRF 004 000 0 -- 4-5-0
BEM 100 001 0 -- 2-7-0
WP: Berg (CG, 7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 6 K)
LP: Carlson (4 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 4 K)
Bemidji 7, Thief River Falls 6
TRF 200 101 2 -- 6-8-3
BEM 032 101 X -- 7-8-2
WP: Lussier (5+ IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K)
LP: Westlund (3 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K)
S: Biehn (1)