BASEBALL: Centaurs sweep elimination games, move 1 win from state berth
“We’re very excited. We feel like we’ve stolen momentum back,” Centaurs head coach Nate Blumhagen said. “... We love our team, we love our chances.”
FERGUS FALLS -- A roller coaster and a redemptive encore brought the Bemidji American Legion baseball team through two elimination games on Saturday.
The Centaurs extended their season another day in Fergus Falls, beating Detroit Lakes 13-12 and Moorhead 8-1 in a pair of do-or-die games of the Sub-State 14 Tournament.
The latter victory, which was the opening game of the championship series, pits previously unbeaten Moorhead against Bemidji again for a winner-take-all rematch on Sunday, July 25, at Delagoon Park in Fergus Falls.
“We’re very excited. We feel like we’ve stolen momentum back,” Centaurs head coach Nate Blumhagen said. “We respect Moorhead a ton, and we know it’s going to be a very tough, very competitive game. But we love our team, we love our chances.”
Before Bemidji reached the championship series, the top seeds first had to face fifth-seeded Detroit Lakes in the losers bracket final.
The Centaurs allowed four runs in the top of the first, but they got three runs back in the bottom half. From then on out, Bemidji knew what kind of effort it would take to survive the day.
“Giving up four in the first and then responding with three, we just knew it was going to be one of those games where you have to stay engaged to win,” Blumhagen said. “That’s how we tailored it. We knew we’d win it with the bats more than defense or pitching.”
The scoreboard operator has their hands full. Ben Corradi’s two-RBI single in the second inning tied things up at 5-5, and Corradi added a grand slam in the third inning for a 10-7 Centaurs advantage.
DL came all the way back by the top of the sixth, chipping away and ultimately generating a 12-12 tie on a bases-loaded walk with two outs.
But Bemidji had the final say, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the sixth. Brandon Lussier led off with a single, and Sawyer Nendick later knocked him in with a sacrifice fly.
Nendick then did the rest on the mound, finishing off 1 1/3 innings of work with three seventh-inning strikeouts to clinch the win.
The Centaurs advanced to face second-seeded Moorhead in the second game of the day, where they had a rude awakening to the championship series. On the first batter of the game, Lussier took a liner off the leg from the mound.
Lussier stayed in the game, got out of a jam with just one run against him and then shut down the Blues for the rest of the day.
“The story of that entire game, and it manifested to our entire team, was Brandon Lussier,” Blumhagen said. “He took the ball hot and tired from game one -- and took an absolute shot of a line drive off the back of his calf. … He found a way to get through 6 2/3 innings of just spectacular baseball. We were just trying to get on his back at that point because he was engaged, and it was all about him out there.”
The offense backed Lussier in a big way. Grant DeClusin scored on Lussier’s second-inning sacrifice bunt, and Aaron Heger doubled in two more before JD Kondos walked with the bases loaded for a 4-1 advantage.
Two more runs followed in the third inning, when Heger singled and later scored on a passed ball.
For good measure, Ty Lundeen hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, and Lussier followed with an RBI single for the 8-1 difference.
Now, all eyes turn to Sunday’s Sub-State finale.
“We’ve got a couple guys left that we haven’t thrown yet this weekend who we feel really good about,” Blumhagen said of the pitching staff. “I love the way we’re swinging it. We know we’ve got to make some plays in the field, and we’re just excited to have the opportunity.”
Bemidji 13, Detroit Lakes 12
DL 412 203 0 -- 12-10-2
BEM 335 201 X -- 13-9-5
WP: Nendick (1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K)
LP: Kulik (1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K)
Bemidji 8, Moorhead 1
MHD 100 000 0 -- 1-6-1
BEM 042 002 X -- 8-12-2
WP: Lussier (6.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K)
LP: Timmer (2.2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 0 K)