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SOFTBALL: Bemidji Blaze hosts home tournament, with 69 teams participating

The Blaze teams keep rolling along, even in the face of high temperatures and lightning delays.

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Bemidji’s Isabel Neal, left, high-fives Kendall Tysver after Neal hit a home run during a game against Warren County at the Bemidji Blaze Tournament on Friday, June 24, 2022, at the BSU softball field.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI – The Bemidji Blaze Tournament lived up to its name on Friday.

The youth softball tournament, hosted throughout Bemidji by the Blaze organization, alternated between scorching heat and lightning delays. Yet 69 teams showed up to play, spreading across softball fields including the BSU diamond, the Blaze complex on Middle School Road, the Bemidji High School field and the city complex.

They came to refine their skills and share quality time with their teammates and coaches. And for the Blaze, which sponsors five teams at the 10U through 16U levels, the home tournament provided a golden opportunity to play opponents without having to spend hours on the road in the process.

“It's nice to sleep in our own beds,” said Blaze 14U coach Danny Schmidt. “It's nice to not have to drive two and a half hours, or three and a half hours like (to) Coon Rapids. So this is good.”

The Blaze 14U team did have to contend with start times that were pushed back on Friday. Its first game was scheduled to commence at 11 a.m., but the elements weren’t having it.

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Bemidji’s Karley LaZella throws a pitch during a game against Warren County at the Bemidji Blaze Tournament on Friday, June 24, 2022, at the BSU softball field.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“We had an 11 o'clock start that got pushed back to 11:30,” Schmidt said. “We got going in the game, then we got another 15-minute weather delay. So psychologically, it messed with the girls. But we came back to it in the second game.”

After losing 5-4 to Monticello in the uneven first game, the Blaze rebounded to beat Warren County 14-5 in their second game of the day.

The weather has been a thorn in the side of the 14U team before. During its tournament last weekend in West Fargo, N.D., Bemidji reached the championship game of its bracket but had to forfeit that contest. The reason? The Blaze didn’t have enough healthy players – one of their teammates was in the hospital.

“We had a girl with some heat stress trauma, heat stroke issues,” Schmidt said. “She was good to go after a couple of days, so she's back at it.”

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Bemidji’s Olivia Birt hits a single during a game against Warren County at the Bemidji Blaze Tournament on Friday, June 24, 2022, at the BSU softball field.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

That’s all in a day’s work for a softball team in Bemidji – especially for those who played during the past high school season, when some games were held in sub-freezing temperatures.

“We went from school ball being 29 degrees, and last week we were 104 heat index,” Schmidt said. “Welcome to Minnesota softball.”

Fans showed up anyway on Friday, a silver lining for the team enjoying its home showcase.

“It's super nice getting all the support from the community, and everyone's just around now,” Blaze 14U player Maya Schmidt said. “It’s a lot of support, (and it) helps a lot on the field too.”

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Bemidji’s Hayden Pirkl runs to first base after hitting a single during a game against Warren County at the Bemidji Blaze Tournament on Friday, June 24, 2022, at the BSU softball field.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Though the conditions aren’t always ideal, some Blaze players are simply happy to have the chance to play after a snowed-out start to their school seasons.

“I love softball,” Maya said. “So getting to do it in the summer too is really fun, and I really appreciate (that we can) keep going.”

Playing with the Blaze also helps multi-sport athletes keep their softball skills sharp, especially since there are several other sports in the area that offer year-round training.

“Every sport is a 12-month sport,” Danny said. “We're trying to squeeze what softball we can in to get these girls a second season in between hockey and volleyball and basketball. A lot of these girls are playing two and possibly three sports a summer even while we got softball going on.”

That explains why no matter what the day may bring, the Blaze maintains the same attitude.

“We'll keep rolling,” Danny said.

Related Topics: SOFTBALLYOUTH SPORTS
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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