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BASEBALL: Second fiddle: Bemidji reaches title game, settles for 8-3A runner-up for 3rd time in 4 years

Bemidji High School senior Henry Michalicek (11) rounds third on his way to scoring during Wednesday's Section 8-3A championship loss to Little Falls at St. John's University in Collegeville. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 4
Lumberjack senior Hunter Olson makes a throw to first during Wednesday's playoff loss to Little Falls at St. John's. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 4
Bemidji High School sophomore Brandon Lussier (left) high-fives first-base coach Bazil Zuehlke in celebration of a two-RBI single during Wednesday's win over Alexandria in the Section 8-3A Tournament at St. John's. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 4
The Flyers celebrate winning the Section 8-3A Tournament championship over Bemidji on Wednesday at St. John's University in Collegeville. Little Falls prevailed 3-2. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 4

COLLEGEVILLE -- For the third time in four years, the Bemidji High School baseball team had to watch its opponent celebrate a Section 8-3A championship.

The No. 2 seeded Lumberjacks reached Wednesday’s title game with a 9-3 win over top-seeded Alexandria at St. John’s University in Collegeville, but No. 3 seed Little Falls stole the show with an ensuing 3-2 victory and tagged BHS with a runner-up finish.

“We’ve knocked on the door, and hopefully we can break through here,” Bemidji head coach Mike Fogelson said. “But it takes a lot to finish second, too. We’re right there. … One or two wins short of where we wanted to finish, but it was a great season.”

The Jacks knocked Alex ace Carter Stockert from the game by driving up his pitch count, which ultimately forced the Cardinals (14-5) to yank him from the game after four innings of Wednesday’s matinee.

BHS was within 3-2, and Brandon Lussier tied the game with a sixth-inning single against relief pitcher Brandon Levasseur. Bemidji then exploded for six runs in the seventh -- including an Alex LaZella go-ahead walk with the bases loaded and then a two-run Lussier single for good measure.

“We beat, arguably, one of the better pitchers in the state of Minnesota,” Fogelson said. “We did everything we could to get Stockert out of there. Our guys (followed) our game plan to a T. We drove his pitch count up by fouling off pitches and having great at-bats. We got to their bullpen, and that was the difference.”

Steven Peterson went the distance for the Lumberjacks, giving up three runs on eight hits and striking out six.

Bemidji moved onto the championship series, where it needed two straight victories to win the section. But Little Falls (13-9) didn’t relinquish an early lead to ensure a perfect tournament run.

The Flyers first scored on a bunt for a safety squeeze, an at-bat that preceded a run-scoring fielder’s choice in the second inning. LaZella doubled in Henry Michalicek half a frame later, but Little Falls established a two-run edge once more with a third-inning run that scored on a wild pitch.

The score remained idle until the sixth, when Peterson cracked an RBI double for a 3-2 ballgame.

Michalicek led off the seventh with a single, putting the tying run on the basepaths, but a sacrifice bunt attempt turned into Flyers pitcher Travis Wenzel making a barehanded play for the 1-6-3 double play.

One lazy fly ball later, Little Falls celebrated its section championship. Bemidji watched.

“We were one hit here or there away from being in that one and winning that one. It came right down to the wire against a really good pitcher,” Fogelson said. “We did everything we could. We fell a little bit short, but was awesome to be playing in that game. It’s obviously frustrating to see your season end that way, but I’m proud of the way we played. We had a great year.”

BHS finishes the season 14-8 and will lose 10 seniors: Joe Fletcher, Casey McNamara, Andrew Thompson, Matthew Johnson, Kevin Hogquist, Hunter Olson, Cole Tatro, Johnny Melhus, Michalicek and LaZella.

As for the Section 8-3A Tournament, last week’s first-round loss to the Flyers finally caught up with Bemidji. A run through the loser’s bracket -- and needing to survive in 50/50-type games -- proved to be too much of a gauntlet to overcome.

“We’ve been in these games, and it can go either way,” Fogelson said. “We beat a really good Alex team, and we played a really good game against a Little Falls team that’s playing really well at the end of the year. … It just wasn’t quite meant to be today.”

No. 2 Bemidji 9, No. 1 Alexandria 3

BHS 001 101 6 -- 9-8-0

ALX 111 000 0 -- 3-8-2

WP: Peterson (CG, 7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K)

LP: Levasseur (2+ IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K)

No. 3 Little Falls 3, No. 2 Bemidji 2

BHS 001 001 0 -- 2-7-3

LF 021 000 X -- 3-5-0

WP: Wenzel (CG, 7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K)

LP: Melhus (2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K)

Micah Friez

Micah Friez is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.

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