Bemidji walks off Brainerd in unforgettable fashion to advance in Section 8-4A Tournament

Jun. 1—BEMIDJI — The impeccable timing of JD Wood's game-tying double in the bottom of the sixth inning cannot be understated.

The Bemidji High School baseball sophomore has taken most of his cuts on the junior varsity team. But with the Lumberjacks trailing 7-5 against eighth-seeded Brainerd in a Section 8-4A Tournament elimination game, Wood was called on to pinch-hit with the tying runs in scoring position.

Wood took an outside pitch from Keaton Lingenfelter and drove it to the left-centerfield gap to tie the game at 7-7.

"I had a situation in East Grand Forks, and I didn't pull through," Wood said. "In this big situation, I was having flashbacks of that. You just have to go up there and swing the bat and get a couple of runs in."

If that hit had come any later on Thursday evening, it wouldn't have come at all.

Per the MSHSL rulebook, section tournament games do not have a seven-inning requirement regardless of weather conditions. So when the thunderstorms rolled through Bemidji 10 minutes after Wood's clutch double, suspending the game until Saturday at noon, BHS caught the most fortunate of breaks.

"When we got to the top of the fifth, we talked to the guys about them understanding that they're behind by more than just two runs," head coach Jim Grimm said. "They might not get the opportunity to have some seventh-inning magic because the umpires had the power to call the game early (if it wasn't tied). We needed to play with a sense of urgency and not coast through these innings. We pulled a rabbit out of our hat just in time."

A similar situation happened on

Memorial Day in New Prague.

No. 7 Rochester Century trailed second-seeded New Prague 2-1 going into the top of the sixth inning in a Section 1-4A Tournament contest. The Panthers thought they had tied the game when Sam Johnston delivered an RBI single. Century had runners at first and third and was poised to take the lead with just one out.

Then it rained.

Officials determined the game could not be finished on Monday night and there was no reasonably logistical way to continue the playoff game at a later time or date. In this instance, being the two teams had already completed five innings — enough to qualify as a completed game by MSHSL standards — the sixth inning was wiped from the game. New Prague was awarded a 2-1 win in five innings despite Centruy tying the game in the sixth inning.

So, if Thursday's Bemidji weather had arrived 10 minutes earlier and Wood never stepped up to the plate, or if the sixth inning was never officially competed, officials could have — and likely would have — ruled Brainerd the winner in six innings, effectively ending the Lumberjacks' season. It would've been like Wood's tying double never happened.

But the rain held off just long enough.

Kobe Brown, who was pinch-hit for by Wood in the sixth, re-entered the game in the top of the seventh as a pitcher. He retired the side in order with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout, sending the Jacks to the bottom of the inning with the top of the order due up in a tie game.

"My dad is crazy about baseball and the weird rules like that," Wood said. "He's a big baseball guy and he thinks of all of these situations. He was telling me about how big that spot was that I was in after the game. It's just a crazy, crazy story. I don't think I'll forget this game."

Two days later, the game resumed, and Bemidji had runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Atreyu Marcelo induced a flyout to get out of the inning and force an eighth.

Brown returned to the mound on Saturday, retiring the side in order on just nine pitches.

"Kobe has been a tough pitcher for us all year," Grimm said. "If he gets past the first batter and has a little confidence, he's good to go. Once he got the first out today, I knew we'd have to give them something to lose this game."

Brown reached base with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning on a single. He stole second base, then took third on an errant throw down to second.

In stepped Gavin Kapaun, who drew a 3-0 count before blasting a double to deep centerfield to walk off Brainerd.

"I don't think I had the green light," Kapaun quipped. "I think if that ball gets caught I'm in big trouble. ... I was just trying to put a good swing on it. It was a weird game, but we got the job done. We get to play another day. That means a lot to us."

Grimm was excited to see his senior step up to the plate in another big spot.

"Gavin absolutely loves batting ninth," Grimm said. "We started batting him ninth because he has a good bat and we don't have an automatic out at the bottom of our lineup. He got a couple of hits, and he actually texted me asking if he could keep batting ninth. He likes it there. He embraces his role and does the best he can with it. We were fortunate he came up to the plate in that spot."

The top of the first inning wasn't ideal for the Jacks on Thursday. Bemidji committed three errors — two throwing and one fielding — through the first five batters starting pitcher Jack Lundquist faced. The Warriors plated their first two runs via errors before Brannon Amundson's RBI single made it 3-0.

Brainerd loaded the bases with two outs but a fly out to Kapaun in right field ended the inning and halted any further damage. Despite allowing just two hits and a walk, Lundquist was tagged for three runs — all unearned.

The Lumberjacks were the beneficiary of Brainerd's fielding mishaps in the bottom of the frame. The Jacks brought home two runs on an error and a single before the game was paused for a 20-minute rain delay.

Bemidji tied the game at 3-3 on a two-out RBI single from Reece Dokken. Brainerd catcher Griff Bartholomaus threw out Dokken at second base on an attempted steal to end the inning.

The Warriors tacked on three more runs in the second inning on two more errors and a fielder's choice. Brown drove in a run for Bemidji on a fielder's choice before Fisher Ganske cut the lead to 6-5 on a Brainerd throwing error on an attempted steal of third.

After a chaotic first two innings, the next three were scoreless. Lingenfelter gave himself a necessary insurance run in the top of the sixth with an RBI single before Wood tied the game in the bottom of the frame, setting the stage for a dramatic conclusion on Saturday.

"It's a complicated game, mentally," Grimm said. "You're excited to get the chance to come out here and win the game right away. You have to be careful that if you don't score right away you don't have a mental letdown. Good for them for keeping their wits about them and staying up the whole time."

Bemidji 8, Brainerd 7 (F/8)

BRD 330 001 00 — 7-6-7

BHS 320 002 01 — 8-10-6

WP: Brown (2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K)

LP: Marcelo (1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K)