BRAINERD -- A torrential downpour. Whistling winds. A disappointing regular season.
None of it mattered Wednesday night, though. The Bemidji High School girls soccer team went on the road in the Section 8-3A playoffs as the No. 7 seed and vanquished No. 2 Brainerd 2-1, scoring once in each half and shutting out the Warriors in the second to advance to the section semifinals.
The win was just the Lumberjacks’ second in the last 13 years against Brainerd, and it also avenged a 5-1 loss in the two teams’ regular-season matchup at Bemidji Middle School.
“I don't know really what would have stopped them,” Bemidji head coach Logan Larsen said of his team. “They all seemed extremely driven to win this game. I think they've been frustrated with the results they've had, because they are an extremely strong team with so many returners, so many seniors. I think they had something big to prove, not to anyone else, but mostly to themselves.”
Addy Kelly scored in the first half off an assist from Sydney Breyen to give the Lumberjacks a lead in the 33rd minute. But Brainerd (11-2-3) struck back immediately with Emma Tautges’ strike off a corner kick in the 34th.
The two teams traded chances for the rest of the first and into the second before a low, precise corner by Marah Bitter found its way to the boot of Breyen in the 58th minute. Breyen then found the back of the net to give the Jacks the goal that would win the game.
Kiera Nelson stopped four shots in net to help Bemidji maintain the lead and finish with the win. Kelly and Miah Stone played all 80 minutes to lock down the midfield.
The scene after the game was one of pure joy, a team vindicated after encountering some surprising struggles during the regular season.
“The girls have been cheering, they're obviously just happy and elated,” Larsen said. “... They wouldn't have played the way they played if they hadn't believed they could pull it off. So it's good that they got that reward of playing with confidence.”
The Lumberjacks finished the regular season at 7-6-2 but carried the momentum of four straight wins into the section quarterfinal. On a wet, windy night in Brainerd, that belief made the difference.
“I hope it's something they realize that's special, that they don't always get for the rest of their lives," Larsen said. “So it's good that they're soaking it in. Whether they're doing that because they're young or because they realize how extremely rare it is, I don't know, but I'm glad they're as happy as they are.”
Now, the challenge for the Jacks is to isolate what worked against Brainerd and apply it against third-seeded Elk River on Saturday. One upset is great, but Bemidji is hungry for more.
“We just beat a higher seed than who we're playing on Saturday,” Larsen said. “So it's just keeping that same heightened anxiety, if you want to call it that, so that they're on their toes, but still confident. So I think if we can play with the same mentality, we should be pushing through again.”
Bemidji has won in the section’s opening round each year since 2014, though this marks the first in the newly formed Class 3A. The Lumberjacks return to the pitch at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, at Elk River with a spot in the championship at stake.
No. 7 Bemidji 2, No. 2 Brainerd 1
BEM 1 1 -- 2
BRD 1 0 -- 1
First half -- 1, BEM GOAL, Kelly (Breyen), 33’; 2, BRD GOAL, Tautges (Robertson), 34’.
Second half -- 3, BEM GOAL, Breyen (Bitter), 58’.
Saves -- Nelson (BEM) 4; LeMieur (BRD) 6.