Bemidji softball plated seven runs in the first inning, but watched the lead shrink in the afternoon heat before losing a 10-9 thriller to Alexandria in the Section 8AAA elimination final on Thursday afternoon at Sartell High School.
With temperatures soaring into the high 90’s as the game progressed, Bemidji struck a major blow in the first inning when the first seven batters all reached base. Following Beth Bolte’s leadoff double, Jody Pemberton followed with a double of her own to put the Lumberjacks ahead.
The afternoon saw both teams battle the heat with their fielding as well, evidenced by a grounder to third from Hannah Alexander that led to an overthrow to first by the Cardinals. Pemberton and Lexi Tatro both scored to stretch the lead to 3-0.
Another run came home through strategic baserunning when Elizabeth Oster forced a throw to second on a steal, allowing Alexander to race home for a double steal.
Izzy Neadeau had a hand in bringing Oster home when her grounder slipped under the glove of the Cardinals’ Kinzie Johnson at third base.
Bemidji brought 11 batters to the plate in the first inning, giving Bolte another opportunity to bat as she plated the seventh run of the inning with an RBI single.
Trailing 7-0 coming to bat for the first time, the Cardinals started to chip away in the bottom of the inning when an error and ball out of play at third helped put a run on the board.
Alexandria’s Aubrie Porter capped a three-run inning with a triple to center field that pulled the Cardinals to within four at the end of a wild first.
Both teams quickly swapped out their starting pitchers in the sweltering heat, as the Cardinals’ Jordan O’Kane was lifted after just one inning and the Lumberjacks’ Taylor Waukazo worked two batters into the third before giving way to Courtney Bullie. With two runners on base, Bemidji’s relief pitcher worked three consecutive outs to keep the lead at 7-3 through three innings.
Bullie helped her own cause at the plate in the following inning, skying a single to center that scored one run before a second reached home on a mishandled ball in center field.
The Cardinals struck back with a pair of two run hits that came in the fourth and fifth innings. Emma Magaard struck with two outs in the fourth to make it 9-5 before Brooklyn Stender also picked up a two-out, two-run hit to close the Bemidji lead to 9-7.
Bullie ended the fifth with a crucial strikeout of Johnson to keep the Cardinals limited to just the two runs in the inning.
While Alexandria’s Josie Steidl kept Bemidji at bay at the plate, Emily Harris brought in another run in the sixth that suddenly brought the Lumberjacks’ lead down to a single run.
Despite the sting of a run surrendered, Bemidji benefitted from a base running mistake to pick up an inning-ending double play that kept the lead intact at 9-8.
After four tough innings of relief pitching from Bullie, Waukazo re-entered the game in the seventh looking to keep the Lumberjacks in front. But after keeping a runner on first while picking up two outs, a single and error loaded the bases for Magaard, who brought the tying run home with a walk.
Waukazo bounced back to strike out Harris on the next at bat to send the game to extra innings.
Both teams missed chances to win the game in the eighth after runners reached, and the Lumberjacks were guilty of leaving the bases loaded in the top of the ninth. That set the stage for the game-ending bottom of the ninth, as the Cardinals used a hit, error, and intentional walk to load the bases for one more game-ending error on the infield.