It felt a little like a neighborhood pick-up game: All you need is nine guys for a team.
The Bemidji Junior Legion baseball team made the most of a short bench — or, really, an empty bench — by beating East Grand Forks 3-2 and 11-7 during a doubleheader at the BSU baseball field on Friday.
“The guys we had here, I have a tremendous amount of faith in them,” head coach Hunter Lake said. “What they really showed today was a lot of versatility. A lot of guys were playing some different spots, in some different roles that they might not normally be in, and they did a fantastic job.”
With a number of teammates with the senior Legion team at the Gopher Classic, the Woodpeckers were left with nine players on Friday. But, as they’ve proven all season, any assortment is more than capable of delivering.
Against EGF, that meant delivering in tight situations.
“I thought it was a tremendous opportunity for us today, to compete in a couple of close ballgames,” Lake said. “We haven’t really had that opportunity as much this year and gotten experience in that situation. Moving into the playoffs, that will be really key, knowing how to win those one- and two-run ballgames.”
The Woodpeckers have had a stellar summer so far, now running up their record to 16-2 with a current seven-game win streak.
On the mound, three pitchers with 15-plus innings pitched have a sub-2.00 ERA, and Bemidji holds a 2.55 team ERA.
At the plate, they’re perhaps even more lethal. Eight batters are hitting .400 or better, and three of those — Cam Justice, Ty Lundeen and Zane Hiller — have eclipsed the .500 mark. The offense averages 9.9 runs per game.
Runs were harder to come by early Friday, as East Grand Forks held the Bemidji bats in check. But the Woodpeckers still scraped across just enough in game one.
Bemidji got on the board early when Zane Hiller scampered home on a first-inning wild pitch. Later, to break a 1-1 deadlock, Casey St. John came home on an error. Peyton Neadeau also singled in Casey Hiller in the fifth inning, affording the Woodpeckers a 3-1 edge.
All the while, Neadeau was cruising on the mound. After allowing a run in the third inning, Neadeau largely shut down the opposing bats to keep the advantage on the home half of the scoreboard.
His day was done after six innings of four-hit, two-run ball, but St. John picked up the save by stranding the tying run on second base in the seventh inning.
Small ball afforded the Woodpeckers a 5-0 lead through three innings of game two.
Zane Hiller scored on Neadeau’s sacrifice fly in the first inning, but most of the damage came in the third.
Fisher Ganske scored on a perfectly executed hit-and-run with Tre’shaun Neadeau, and then Aiden Neadeau swiped home on a double steal. Zane Hiller brought on a 5-0 game with a two-RBI single soon after.
EGF got seven runs back over the fourth and fifth innings — with just one of those runs scored as an earned run — for a 7-5 advantage.
The story didn’t end there, though. After Boston Smith got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, St. John cracked a two-run single in the fifth inning that served as the go-ahead hit.
The Woodpeckers piled on three more runs in the sixth for good measure. That included an RBI single from Zane Hiller, who worked 2 1/3 innings in relief and picked up the win with a scoreless outing.
Not riding the roller coaster of the highs and lows, and always being ready to make the next play (was the difference),” Lake said of the sweep. “Our guys on the mound threw strikes, and in the box, we swung the bats well. That’s what got it done for us today.”
Bemidji will close the regular season next week with a doubleheader at Grand Rapids at 4 p.m. Monday, July 12, and then a home doubleheader against Pequot Lakes at 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 14.
The district playoffs run from July 19-21 in Perham, and the Woodpeckers have their sights set high.
“I would say the goal for this group is to win the last game of the year,” Lake said.
Bemidji 3, East Grand Forks 2
EGF 001 001 0 — 2-4-3
BEM 100 110 X — 3-4-2
WP: P. Neadeau (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 6 K)
LP: Erickson (CG, 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K)
S: St. John (1)
Bemidji 11, East Grand Forks 7
EGF 000 340 0 — 7-9-3
BEM 104 030 X — 8-14-4
WP: Z. Hiller (2 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K)
LP: McMahon (2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K)