Crookston trailed Bemidji 8-3 in the seventh before outscoring the Blue Ox 9-0 the rest of the way and earn the victory.
The Crookston Reds trailed by five to Bemidji with nine outs between them and elimination. But on a warm Saturday, seven served as the lucky number for Crookston as they cranked out seven runs in the seventh inning to regain the lead 10-8. The Reds added two more in the ninth for safety’s sake and held on to win 12-8. With the win, Crookston punched their second consecutive trip to the state tournament.
“I was thinking we were still in it all the way,” Manager Rob Silvers said. “We were getting baserunners every inning and through six innings, we had left nine guys on base. We had our chances, but we just weren’t picking up the clutch hit.”
Small ball gave the Reds an early lead. SS Will Zimmerman led off the game with a single, moved up two bases on two steal attempts and eventually came home to score on a wild pitch.
Sean Minder started on the hill for Crookston and cruised through the first inning before running into some trouble in the next three innings. Minder managed to get through 5.2 innings allowing eight runs, three of which were unearned.
The second-inning rally for Bemidji started when a fielding error kept the inning alive and created a two-on, two-out scenario. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Bemidji’s Mitch Hendricks sent a majestic blast over the left field wall to put the Blue Ox ahead 3-1.
Zimmerman utilized his speed once again to manufacture a run in the following inning. After a lead-off walk, Zimmerman stole his third and fourth bags of the game. 3B Bailey Schmitz then hit a one-out sacrifice fly to plate Zimmerman and inch the Reds closer now down 3-2.
The Blue Ox followed suit with a sac-fly of their own in the bottom half of the third to get the run back and maintain their two-run lead.
UMC Golden Eagle and Reds CF Aaron Hollcraft started the fourth inning action with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. DH Cody Wardner took advantage of a 3-1 count and shot a single to the outfield which brought home Hollcraft and cut Bemidji’s lead in half. The Reds left the bases loaded and trailed 4-3.
A single and a walk put Bemidji in an excellent position to put distance between them and the Reds and they did just that scoring four in the fourth for an 8-3 lead.
Both sides shut down the opposing offense for the fifth and sixth innings. Lars Brevik relieved Minder with a man on second and two outs in the sixth and ended the threat with a ground out.
Trailing 8-3 and desperate for some offense, 1B Dave Grabowski stepped up to the plate and sent a towering shot over the left field fence for a solo home run. 2B Matt Morin and Hollcraft continued the rally with a single and a hit-by-pitch setting the stage for Brevik. Brevik watched a first-pitch strike, then made the score 8-5 with a two-RBI double to score Morin and Hollcraft.
“As soon as Dave led off that seventh inning with the home run, you knew everyone else was going to follow suit,” Silvers said. “That’s just the way we’ve done it all year. We wait until the last three innings to score.”
Brevik moved to third on a wild pitch and RF Taylor Kenfield drew a one-out walk to put runners on first and third. Zimmerman brought home Brevik with a single to make the score 8-7 and C Noah Zimmerman gave Crookston their first lead since the first inning the game with a two-RBI double down the right field line.
The Reds batted around the order which brought up Grabowski, who started the rally. Grabowski extended the rally plating Crookston’s seventh run of the inning via an RBI single and the Reds led Bemidji 10-8.
“Dave’s homer started us,” Silvers said. “That got everybody back on their feet. When Noah hit that opposite field double, that changed the whole tone of the game.”
Bemidji kept the pressure on by loading the bases with only one out in the bottom half of the seventh. In a nine pitch battle, Brevik won the duel with a called strike three on a full count. Brevik got the next batter for fly out and escape the inning unscathed.
“He got a big, full-count strike three and I knew right there that he was going to get the next guy and we were going to be just fine,” Silvers said.
After another clean inning in the eighth by Brevik, the Reds looked to pad their lead. With runners on first and second and one down, Noah Zimmerman sent a routine grounder to the third baseman who threw the ball away allowing two more runs to score. Zimmerman was tagged out trying to advance to third, but the Reds now possessed a 12-8 lead three outs away from a trip to state.
It took three pitches for Brevik to get the first two outs in the bottom of the ninth. On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Brevik earned a fly ball to center which Hollcraft lost in the sun granting Bemidji another chance. Brevik picked up his teammate and forced a lazy pop-up to Will Zimmerman who squeezed it to end the game.
For Silvers, the win against powerhouse Bemidji came as a solid reward for his squad.
“Bemidji has been the most dominant team in this area for the last few years,” Silvers said. “For us to beat them is a great feeling.”
The Reds went on to lose to Ada 14-2 in the regional championship game, but still clinched a spot in the state tournament. Crookston’s first contest will come against Belle Plaine on Saturday, August 18 at 5 p.m. in Shakopee.