Alexandria gets its revenge against Bemidji in the playoff opener
Shay Endres continued his stellar season on the mound, and the fifth-seeded Alexandria baseball team got the timely hitting it needed to beat second-seeded Bemidji in the Section 8-3A opener after the Lumberjacks had swept the Cardinals during the regular season.
The quest for a championship just got a whole lot trickier for the Bemidji High School baseball team.
A hopeful trip to the state tournament hit a major road bump at the BSU baseball field, where two errors cost the Lumberjacks a demoralizing 4-2 loss against Alexandria in Tuesday’s Section 8-3A Tournament opener.
“Everything is magnified in the playoffs, and every little play is going to matter a lot,” BHS head coach Mike Fogelson said. “Unfortunately, the three or four plays we had to make that really, really mattered, I don’t think we made enough of them.”
Tied 1-1 through six, Caleb Runge reached on a one-out error on a ground ball to Bemidji shortstop Brandon Lussier in the top of the seventh. But with the way pitcher Isaiah Biehn was dealing, it seemed like a harmless inconvenience more than a serious threat.
Yet Devin Cimbura and Nate Hammerback followed with singles, the latter of which scored the go-ahead runs. Cimbura was waved in from third base after Aaron Heger misplayed Hammerback’s ground ball in right field.
"Timely hitting was a huge deal in this game,” Alexandria head coach Jake Munsch said. “Guys didn't seem nervous at all. They seemed like they wanted to be the guy to pick their team up. We have had many players who have struggled offensively as of late come up with some big hits last night. That's the cruel thing about baseball, and also the beauty of the game. Have to ride the wave and always trust your abilities.”
Elijah Holthaus singled in a third unearned run before inning’s end, backing Shay Endres with the run support he needed in a consummate pitchers’ duel opposite of Biehn.
“Their pitcher did a great job,” Fogelson said of Endres. “He got us to swing at a lot of pitches, had command of the strike zone. We popped up too many pitches.”
The second-seeded Jacks (14-7) didn’t find a baserunner until the fourth inning, while the fifth-seeded Cardinals (13-8) manufactured the opening run on JD Hennen’s RBI single a half inning prior.
That score stuck until the sixth, when Biehn singled, stole second and scored on a clutch game-tying hit from Ben Corradi.
BHS looked poised to script a new ending, but Alexandria was just as capable. The Cardinals’ three-run seventh inning was a deflating blow to the building energy in the home dugout.
Grant DeClusin even homered in the bottom of the seventh -- a solo shot that snuck over the left-field fence -- but the previous errors demoted it from a walk-off into a footnote.
The tying run got aboard with one out, as well, and it was almost poetic that the pitchers’ duel came down to Endres on the mound and Biehn at the plate. Endres had the final say, inducing a game-ending pop-up that got the Cardinals rushing out of the dugout in celebration.
" Shay did what he has been doing his last few times out and has led to a lot of his success,” Munsch said. “He has pounded the strike zone and didn't allow free bases. He threw a high percentage of first-pitch strikes, which in high school baseball is a critical stat for success. His defense made the plays around him."
Bemidji’s path to the championship series now has to go through the loser’s bracket. The Lumberjacks will host sixth-seeded Little Falls at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 3, with the winner advancing to next week’s action at St. John’s University.
Alexandria gets fourth-seeded Rocori on the Spartans' home field on June 3 at 4:30 p.m. Rocori beat third-seeded Detroit Lakes in a 9-4 game on Tuesday night.
The Cardinals and Spartans played once during the regular season. Alexandria beat Rocori in a 10-2 final on May 13. It was one of eight wins in the last nine games for the Cardinals.
"Mindset stays the same. Bemidji was a nice win, but it is in the past,” Munsch said. “Rocori is the focus now. We will continue to focus on areas we can improve, and solidify the things we are doing well. Tough to play at their park in their atmosphere. Pressure is on them. They are the higher seed and they are supposed to win. We will play our game, leave it all out there, and check the score at the end of the game.”
(Eric Morken of the Echo Press contributed to this story)
Alexandria 4, Bemidji 2
ALX 000 100 3 -- 4-8-0
BHS 000 001 1 -- 2-5-2
WP: Endres (CG, 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K)
LP: I. Biehn (CG, 7 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K)
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Elijah Holthaus - 3-4, 2B, 1 run, RBI; Devan Swerman - 0-3; JD Hennen - 1-3, RBI; Endres - 0-2, BB; Grady Anderson - 0-2; Caleb Runge - 0-1; Reid Reisdorf - 1 run; Devin Cimbura - 1-3, 1 run; Nate Hammerback - 1-3, RBI; Kludt - 1 run; Brock Lerfald - 1-3; Lake Hagen - 1-3