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BASEBALL: Woodpeckers flying high with improved fundamentals ahead of state

The Bemidji Junior Legion baseball team has always had the talent necessary to be an excellent team. But as the Woodpeckers’ summer continued, the players started to fuse into a team that cared about and paid attention to the finer details necessary to win games at the highest level.

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Bemidji's Gavin Kapaun throws the ball toward the infield during a Woodpeckers practice on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at Des Sagedahl Field.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI – The Bemidji Junior Legion baseball team has always had the talent necessary to be an excellent team.

Early in the season, head coach Travis Carruth recognized that his squad had the pitching prowess and hitting heft befitting a group that finished fourth at the state tournament in 2021. But as the Woodpeckers’ summer continued, Carruth began to see his gifted collection of individual players start to fuse into a team that cared about and paid attention to the finer details necessary to win games at the highest level.

“That's the biggest thing,” Carruth said. “Super proud of them for how they've matured on and off the field. Because early, there were some things that I had to keep harping on them about to do, and they've cleaned that up. It's been really fun to watch them grow individually and as a team throughout this summer.”

Carruth saw Bemidji’s focus shift from things that didn’t directly affect their performance to ways they could improve themselves as players.

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Head coach Travis Carruth talks to the Woodpeckers during a team practice on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at Des Sagedahl Field.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“(They were) just worrying about things that we really couldn't control or what the other team was doing,” Carruth said. “Just kind of losing our heads in a couple positions, worrying about umpires. Bad calls happen, human error, that’s part of the game of baseball. But you can only control what you can control, and that's putting your head down and making the next play that you can.”

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The Woodpeckers (13-8) put it all together during the Sub-State F Tournament in East Grand Forks on July 16-18, sweeping through the field with a perfect 3-0 record to advance to the state tournament in Bloomington.

Bemidji started the competition with a 9-5 win over Moorhead in the opening round. The Woodpeckers reached the championship with a thrilling 2-1 walk-off win over East Grand Forks in the semifinals, then shut down EGF 3-0 in the title game.

Gavin Kapaun pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings in the championship contest, allowing just three hits. The only thing that stopped him was a pitch limit.

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Bemidji's Alex Schaefer makes contact with the ball during a Woodpeckers practice on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at Des Sagedahl Field.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“Gavin threw an absolute gem in the championship game,” Carruth said. “He went 6 2/3 and hit his pitch count, didn’t give up a run. I mean, you literally cannot ask for better out of a starting pitcher in that game.”

Kapaun represents just one arm in a deep staff that includes Casey St. John, the projected starter for the Woodpeckers’ opening-round matchup in the state tournament. All St. John did at sub-state was twirl a one-run, complete-game victory in Bemidji’s first matchup with East Grand Forks.

“I think defense was the main thing,” Kapaun said of why the pitching was so successful. “(It was) the best defense that we've had all year, 100%.”

Coupled with St. John, Kapaun is ready to provide his half of a formidable one-two punch on the mound for the Woodpeckers at state. Bemidji will face off against Bloomington in the first round of the double-elimination tournament at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 28, in Bloomington.

“You’ve just got to throw strikes, let them hit it, let the defense do the work,” Kapaun said. “... That’s kind of what we were missing all year. Every time we didn’t really pull off a win, (it was) mostly our defense. And (we) pulled it all together in one sub-state (tournament).”

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Coach Travis Carruth throws a pitch during a Bemidji Woodpeckers practice on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at Des Sagedahl Field.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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The Woodpeckers practice bunting during a team practice on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at Des Sagedahl Field.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Coach Travis Carruth chats with the Woodpeckers after a team practice on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at Des Sagedahl Field.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Related Topics: BASEBALL
Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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