No. 3 Detroit Lakes built an eight-run lead early and watched it slip away only to erase a three-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh to defeat No. 2 Bemidji 13-12 to advance to the Minnesota Class AAA state softball tournament for the first time ever in a wild finish of the section championship game Wednesday, May 29 at Snappy Park.
“It was karma,” said DL head coach Phil Kirchner. “Things didn’t go great for our season this year. We battled back, played with what we had. I wasn’t feeling good about this; I was sick to my stomach but then karma got it. We deserved it. Everything we went through tonight, I’m proud for the girls. We didn’t play great, but enough to win. This is amazing. You just play the game every out.”
Bemidji scored six runs on only two hits and four Laker errors to take a 12-9 lead in the top of the sixth inning coming back from a 9-1 deficit after two innings of play. It was the only lead the Lumberjacks held.
DL brought the tying run to the plate with two aboard in the bottom of the sixth but failed to convert.
Bemidj stranded an insurance run in scoring position in the top of the seventh.
Laker starting pitcher Madilyn Kirchner led off the bottom of the seventh with a single and Laura Prussia brought her home quickly with a home run to cut the lead to 12-11.
Prussia has been DL’s best hitter all season and was unstoppable in the game going 5-5 with two home runs and six RBI.
Bemidji pitcher Maddie Hanson responded and got two quick outs on a pop to second and strikeout.
Taylor Prussia ripped a ball to the centerfield gap and was held to a single by a shoestring snag off the hop by the Jacks’ Anikka Takkunen.
DL sophomore Falyn Deboer, who was not a starter until late in the season, hit a ground ball that looked to be the last out but was safe on an error at first base to put runners on the corners.
Deboer had made two of the four Laker errors in Bemidji’s seven-run sixth inning.
Sara Freeman worked the count and hit a dribbler to Bemidji third baseman Gracie Fisher in what appeared to be a game-clincher for the visitors.
“I got super emotional,” said Freeman. “I was excited but nervous when I got to bat at the end. I knew I had to put it in play for my team.”
Fisher had time to make the play.
“I was thinking I was probably out but I’m going to try my best to get there,” Freeman said. “I knew that third baseman, she’s very good. I thought she had me there and thought I was out and lost it for the team.”
Fisher’s throw sailed over first base allowing Taylor Prussia to tie the game and Deboer to be the hero coming around with the winning run.
Hanson was stellar in relief coming into the game with the Lakers leading 9-1 in the second inning after pitching the first game of the day and eliminating top-seeded Sartell-St. Stephen. Kirchner pitched her second complete game in as many days to earn the victory striking out six.
The Lakers got off to a hot start jumping all over Bemidji starter Gabbi Takkunen for four runs in the first and five in the second.
The Jacks chipped away at the lead, including a three-run homer by Fisher, and took advantage when DL let them back in the game.
The victory gives Coach Kirchner a first trip to the state tournament in his final year at the helm.
“That was my goal the whole time when I was young, but now I’m a little bit older and I want to have a quality program, good kids and it happened,” he said. “We were hitting the ball well. It was time. We were due. We worked hard. They did it. It’s a great thing for the town and the team.”
The trip to Mankato is big for the players as well having gone deep in the section tournament the past few seasons and finally finding a way to advance.
“I think it’s huge,” Freeman said. “We’re all super excited and it’s our first time and our seniors worked so hard for it; all of us have. It’s really exciting.”
The Class AAA state tournament will be held at Caswell Park in North Mankato June 6-7.
No. 3 Detroit Lakes 13, No. 2 Bemidji 12
BHS 103 107 0 - 12 11 3
DL 450 000 4 - 13 17 6
WP: Kirchner (CG, 7 IP, 12 H, 12 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 6 K)
LP: Hanson (5.1 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K)