SARTELL -- Nine innings mixed with a generous amount of runs, baked at 97 degrees for three hours. That was the recipe for a crazy Section 8-3A Tournament elimination game on Thursday.
In the end, though, the Bemidji High School softball team got burned in the scorching heat, succumbing 10-9 to Alexandria on a walk-off error.
“We had some big plays, but you can’t keep giving that one little extra out,” BHS head coach Brad Takkunen said. “That’s what was happening, and it finally got to us. The girls played their hearts out.”
FINAL: Alexandria 10, Bemidji 9.— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) June 10, 2021
What a game. Brooke Stender scores the winning run on an E-4 in the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals score the final seven runs of the game to advance into the section championship series and eliminate the Lumberjacks on a blistering hot day. pic.twitter.com/sASRb85cGZ
With the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth, Emma Magaard clubbed a ground ball to the right side of the infield for the Cardinals. The ball found its way to the outfield grass, allowing Brookelyn Stender to score the winning run. The final play was the culmination of a gargantuan comeback, as the Cardinals scored the final seven runs after trailing 7-0 by the middle of the first.
“Honestly, I never really felt like we were in control,” Takkunen said. “Scoring that many runs in the first inning was obviously a better start than not scoring any. But I was also of the mindset that, with the weather the way it was and exactly what took place, you just can’t take anything for granted.”
The early advantage went to the third-seeded Lumberjacks (13-12). The first seven batters reached base, and five runs came across before second-seeded Alexandria (16-7) recorded an out. Beth Bolte batted 2-for-2 in the inning and joined Jody Pemberton in picking up RBIs during the frame.
“As a coach, I knew that Alex had enough to come back, but, at the same time, if we played like we had been playing, it’d be a tough road for them,” Takkunen said. “You have to give credit for what they did.”
The Cardinals got three runs back in the bottom of the first, but the Bemidji lead held at a solid 9-3 by the middle of the fourth. Courtney Bullie sent a two-run double to the gap in left-center to pile on some insurance runs.
And then, slowly but surely, the Alexandria rally was on.
Two runs in the fourth, two in the fifth and one in the sixth had the game within 9-8 entering the bottom of the seventh.
BHS was still one out from victory, with the tying run only to first base, but a single, error and bases-loaded walk allowed Chloe Loch to score just in the nick of time.
“They were handling (the heat) pretty well, but there were some uncharacteristic things that were happening,” Takkunen said. “I don’t know if that was because of the heat or what, but we just kind of got away from how solid we had played.”
The Jacks escaped a jam in the eighth but left the bases loaded themselves in the top of the ninth. That set the stage for Stender in the ninth, who scored on the E-4 to complete the rally.
“It was anyone’s game once they tied it up,” Takkunen said. “We had chances to put runs across the board, and it just didn’t happen. That’s a credit to their pitcher. They had chances, and once again, they came out.”
Alexandria advanced to the Section 8-3A championship series against Sartell-St. Stephen but didn’t have much left in the tank on Thursday. The Sabres claimed the section title with a 12-0 victory in five innings, capturing the program’s first championship since 1985.
Bemidji graduates 10 seniors in Aria Gish, Haley Bahl, Taylor Waukazo, Jordan Hunsberger, Macey Gish, Peyton Oelrich, Ariel Mohs, Hannah Alexander, Lindsey Nelson and Bullie.
“Obviously they’re going to be devastated on the bus,” Takkunen said. “They’ll be disappointed just because of the way it went, but I hope they’ll get over that pretty quickly and remember all of the good things that they had going, too.”
Alexandria 10, Bemidji 9 (nine innings)
BHS 700 200 000 -- 9-14-5
ALX 300 221 101 -- 10-12-2
WP: Steidl (5.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K)
LP: Waukazo (5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 6 BB, 3 K)