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Contributed Brandon-Evansville's Ryan Hendrickson threw in his team's second game of the Region 16C tournament. Hendrickson got the save in that game, but it wasn't his finest moment of the tournament. His three-run walk-off home run on Sunday against Pelican Rapids secured a spot in the 16C title game.

Region 16C baseball: Hendrickson's blast sends Bluedogs to state

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The Brandon-Evansville Bluedogs do not have to worry about climbing their way through the loser's bracket in an attempt to reach their third state tournament in team history.

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The Bluedogs took care of that already with a big weekend in the opening three rounds of the Region 16C tournament.

Brandon-Evansville has run with a saying of "oh, what a rush" to describe one of the most successful seasons in its recent history. On Sunday, Ryan Hendrickson provided the ultimate rush when he delivered a walk-off, three-run home run in a 5-4 win over Countryside champion Pelican Rapids. It was a shot that sent this team to the state tournament for the first time since 2009.

The Bluedogs got to that point with an 8-5 win over Midway and a 9-4 win over Leech Lake in the opening two rounds. The three wins solidified their spot in the 16C championship game, which is set for tomorrow, Saturday, at 8 p.m. in Perham.

Brandon-Evansville trailed most of the way before the unlikely scene played out in the ninth against Pelican Rapids. The Lakers scored three in the third to take a 3-1 lead before adding an insurance run in the eighth.

Meanwhile, Pelican Rapids starter Casey Kowalski was working in and out of trouble. Brandon-Evansville got 14 hits off him in the game, but left 11 men on base as Kowalski held them to just two runs through the first eight innings.

Their inability to come up with the big hit changed in the ninth. Nate Meissner led off with a single before Lee Nelson did the same to put runners on first and second. That brought the Bluedogs cleanup hitter to the plate as the winning run.

Hendrickson had already gone deep in the game, connecting on a solo shot that led off the third inning. His second one of the day sent his dugout into a frenzy as he deposited a 2-0 pitch over the left field wall for the walk-off win.

"When he hit the ball, the dugout erupted," veteran pitcher Mike Bruns said. "It was a no-doubter to left field and to have him deliver in such a big spot says a lot about what he brings to our team. Everybody knew he was going to get a good swing on the ball, and he delivered in a big way. Can't say enough about how much fun it is to play on this team."

That made Hendrickson a winner on the mound, as well. He worked the final 1 1/3 innings without allowing a hit. He walked one and struck out two after Matt Bruns worked the first 7 2/3. Bruns allowed four runs, three earned, on seven hits and five walks. He struck out six.

The Bluedogs used multiple-run innings to pull away from Midway in the second round on Saturday. The Snurdbirds led 3-1 after the first before Brandon-Evansville scored two in the second, three in the fifth and two in the seventh to take a lead it would not relinquish.

Former Chargers' pitcher Aaron Lund settled down after the first inning to give his team 6 1/3 innings. He limited Midway to four runs, two earned, on six hits and five walks, while striking out three. Collin Modahl, a playoff addition from the Alexandria Senators, allowed an unearned run in 1 2/3 innings before Hendrickson worked a scoreless ninth for the save.

"Aaron pitched great on Saturday against Midway," Mike Bruns said. "To put an 18-year-old kid on the mound against the defending state champions and expect success, and to see him deliver, that says a lot about Aaron. His future is bright with the Bluedogs."

Leadoff hitter Chris Shea delivered a key home run in the second that erased his team's early deficit. Josh Meissner walked in front of him with two outs before Shea made it hurt for Midway with a two-run homer that tied things up at three apiece.

The Bluedogs never trailed after that. Brent Meissner had an RBI single in the fifth and Travis Santjer delivered an RBI double. Nate Meissner had a big day at the plate with three hits and two runs scored, while Hendrickson was also 3-for-3 with two walks and a run scored.

Leech Lake could do no better against the Bluedogs lineup in the playoff opener last Thursday. N. Meissner was again the catalyst out of the two-hole with three hits, an RBI and four runs scored. Monte Hinzmann and Robert Wood each had two hits and two RBIs as Brandon-Evansville scored seven runs in innings five through eight to run away with things.

Mike Bruns got the win after going the first 5 1/3 innings. He allowed four runs on seven hits and five walks. He struck out four. Modahl again proved effective for his new team. He struck out five and allowed just two hits and two walks in the final 3 2/3 innings.

It is that mix of veterans and athletic newcomers that has this team believing in itself heading into tomorrow's title game. Nate Meissner, Brent Meissner and Shea have played for the Bluedogs since the team's inception in 2001, while Travis Santjer is in his 10th year. New additions like Modahl, Hinzmann and Lund have added to the talent pool for a team that is playing its best baseball at the right time.

The Bluedogs will take a six-game winning streak into the championship game. They have won 16 of their last 17 after starting the season with two straight losses.

"I feel this is the most complete team the Bluedogs have put together," Bruns said. "The team chemistry is the best it has ever been and adding a couple quality young players to the team always gets the older guys fired up again."

GAME STATISTICS

PELICAN RAPIDS 003 000 010 - 4 7 0

BLUEDOGS 101 000 003 - 5 14 1

BLUEDOGS PITCHING - Matt Bruns - 7 2/3IP, 7H, 4R, 3ER, 5BB, 6SO; Hendrickson - 1 1/3IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 2SO

BLUEDOGS HITTING - Shea - 0-3, BB, 1 run; N. Meissner - 2-5, 1 run; Lee Nelson - 2-5, 1 run; Hendrickson - 2-5, 2 HR, 2 runs, 4 RBI; Hinzmann - 2-3, BB, RBI; B. Meissner - 1-3; Santjer - 2-4; Wood - 1-4; Josh Meissner - 2-4

MIDWAY 300 000 110 - 5 8 1

BLUEDOGS 120 030 20X - 8 11 3

BLUEDOGS PITCHING - Lund - W, 6 1/3IP, 6H, 4R, 2ER, 5BB, 3SO; Modahl - 1 2/3IP, 1H, 1R, 0ER, 0BB, 0SO; Hendrickson - 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 0SO

BLUEDOGS HITTING - Shea - 1-5, HR, 1 run, 2 RBI; N. Meissner - 3-3, BB, 2 runs; Nelson - 0-3, 2 BB, 1 run; Hendrickson - 3-3, 2 BB, 1 run; Hinzmann - 1-4, RBI; Teddy Wood - 1 run; B. Meissner - 1-3, 1 run, RBI; Santjer - 1-4, 2B, RBI; J. Meissner - 0-3, BB, 1 run

LEECH LAKE 102 001 000 - 4 9 2

BLUEDOGS 200 031 12X - 9 12 0

BLUEDOGS PITCHING - Mike Bruns - W, 5 1/3IP, 7H, 4R, 4ER, 5BB, 4SO; Modahl - 3 2/3IP, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 2BB, 5SO

BLUEDOGS HITTING - Shea - 1-4BB, 2 runs; N. Meissner - 3-4, 2B, BB, 4 runs, RBI; Hendrickson - 1-4, HBP, 1 run, RBI; Santjer - 1-4, RBI, BB; Hinzmann - 2-4, 1 run, 2 RBI; Matt Kruize - 1-4, BB, 1 run, RBI; R. Wood - 2-3, 2 RBI; Lund - 0-4; J. Meissner - 1-3

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Eric Morken
Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
(320) 763-1229
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