BEMIDJI -- One win is all that separates the Bemidji High School softball team from a third consecutive appearance in the Section 8-3A championship series.
The third-seeded Lumberjacks (13-11) won back-to-back elimination games on a balmy Tuesday afternoon to advance in the Section 8-3A Tournament. Fifth-seeded Little Falls (4-17) were victims of a 11-0, five-inning loss in the first game before fourth-seeded Sauk Rapids-Rice (5-17) succumbed to BHS 12-2 after six innings in the day’s final contest.
“In that first game, we jumped on them early and kind of did what we expected to do in my opinion,” Bemidji head coach Brad Takkunen said. “And then in that second game, Sauk Rapids just hung in there and hung in there. They had multiple opportunities to score runs and we just found ways to evade and get outs. Taylor (Waukazo) kept throwing strikes. I can’t say enough about how the girls battled with the way the afternoon went.”
Waukazo pitched 10 of 11 innings for Bemidji and held opponents to only two runs while racking up 14 strikeouts on the day.
“It was a lot of hard work, but it was very rewarding in the end,” Waukazo said.
“Taylor was definitely exhausted by the time it was all said and done,” Takkunen said. “I can’t give her enough credit.”
The Lumberjacks scored early and often in the opening game with Little Falls.
Five runs crossed home plate in the first inning before another four in the third made it 9-0. Elizabeth Oster’s two-run single opened the scoring in the first and the BHS didn’t look back. Isabelle Neadeau plated two more runs on her triple and Waukazo’s RBI single made it 5-0.
Beth Bolte, Jody Pemberton and Hannah Alexander each notched RBIs in the four-run third.
Courtney Bullie relieved Waukazo in the fifth and retired the side.
Lexi Tatro clinched the game in the bottom of the fifth, belting a two-run homer over the left field fence for the walk-off, 10-run rule victory.
The second elimination game against Sauk Rapids-Rice, who beat Detroit Lakes 10-0 in six innings on the neighboring field to advance, didn’t go as smoothly in the beginning.
Peyton Oelrich spotted the Jacks a 1-0 lead in the second, only for the Storm to tie it at 1-all on an RBI single in the fourth. Waukazo got out of the jam and Bemidji found new life in the bottom half.
Oelrich drove in the go-ahead run on a fielder’s choice before Pemberton connected on a two-run single with the bases loaded to extend the lead to 4-1.
Another RBI single by Sauk Rapids-Rice halved the lead in the top of the fifth, only for BHS to add two more runs in the bottom of the frame.
A six-run sixth inning fueled by run-scoring hits from Tatro, Oster, Aria Gish and Oelrich gave the Lumberjacks the breathing room they needed. A wild pitch scored Oelrich and sealed the 10-run rule win.
Oelrich registered four RBIs in the second game to lead the Jacks. Tatro earned two RBIs in each game to also finish with four for the day.
After a rough start to the season, Bemidji has won 12 of its last 13 games and is three wins away from a section title.
“I’ve got to be honest: I never thought we’d be anywhere near this point when we started 1-10,” Takkunen said. “The way that they turned it around and the way that the girls kept battling and working -- it’s a good club here.”
Top-seeded Sartell-St. Stephen (18-2) defeated second-seeded Alexandria (15-7) 10-5 in the winner’s bracket championship Tuesday.
The Jacks and Cardinals will meet at 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 10, in Sartell. The winner will face the Sabres later that day and need to beat them twice -- with a potential second game set for Friday, June 11 -- to claim the section crown.
BHS went 0-2 against each team during the regular season, and lost a close 3-2 game at Alex in the section playoffs last week. But this Bemidji team is far removed from the one that met Sartell and Alexandria in April.
“This team has the ability to win a couple games on Thursday,” Takkunen said. “You just never know. We’ve just got to go out there and see what happens and hopefully do enough things right to win some games.”
Bemidji 11, Little Falls 0 (five innings)
LF 000 00 -- 0-1-2
BHS 504 02 -- 11-9-0
WP: Waukazo (4 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 9 K, 1 BB)
LP: Threlkeld (2.1 IP, 9 R, 7 H, 3 K, 4 BB)
Bemidji 12, Sauk Rapids-Rice 2 (six innings)
SRR 000 110 -- 2-7-1
BHS 010 326 -- 12-10-0
WP: Waukazo (CG, 6 IP, 2 R, 7 H, 5 K, 3 BB)
LP: Schave (CG, 5.2 IP, 12 R, 10 H, 1 K, 4 BB)