The Perham Stingers came into the district tournament in East Grand Forks with the 2-seed and very high expectations for themselves.
They knew what they had to do to advance to the state tournament: defeat Moorhead and Bemidji. They got their opportunity to complete half of the duty in their opening game on Friday afternoon, when Moorhead defeated the host team East Grand Forks 8-6 in the opening round to face their rivals, Perham, in round two. The winner would get a shot at Bemidji in the semi-finals.
The game would not go exactly the way the Stingers had planned. Having played Moorhead in a doubleheader earlier in the week, the Stingers knew they were in for a battle. Splitting the doubleheader on Monday was what Perham needed to do to get the 2-seed and they did just that. Chris Ruther got the nod for the Stingers, his second start against Moorhead in the week. This second start didn't go nearly as well as the first one. Moorhead banged around Ruther.
Ruther lasted all seven innings, but they weren't very pretty innings, as he gave up seven runs on 11 hits in the effort. Perham came out cold, struggling to get runners on throughout the entire game. They managed just five hits and two runs. That meant that the Stingers would have to battle back from the losers' bracket for a chance to get to state.
Stingers Recover with dominating victory
The first hurdle came in the form of Fergus Falls, a team the Stingers had already defeated four times in the regular season. Perham went with consistent Dylan Ellingson on the mound to give a little life back to the team. It worked, as the Stingers jumped out of the gate with four runs in the bottom of the first inning.
The Stingers weren't done there, as they would pile on another seven runs in the second inning, with the Hein brothers both delivering RBI singles and Brauch and Paul both delivering two-run doubles. They would add another three runs in the third to ten-run rule Fergus Falls behind a stellar pitching outing by Ellingson, who gave up just two hits and one run in the complete game victory.
Stingers advance past East Grand Forks
Perham came into their third round game with East Grand Forks knowing exactly what to expect: a scrappy team that wouldn't go away.
Perham thought they would be able to get by with a quick victory and move on to face Bemidji, who lost to Moorhead earlier in the day, for a shot at the championship.
The Stingers may have taken things too easily, as the hosts stayed close and never went away.
Perham jumped up 2-0 in the first and then added four more in the third. However, EGF scored three in the fourth and two in the fifth to make the score 6-5 going to the bottom of the fifth. Perham would add three in the bottom half to make the score 9-5 going into the sixth.
In the sixth, EGF scored two two-out runs to narrow the margin to 9-7. Perham went 1-2-3 in the bottom and held a two-run lead in the top of the seventh. Perham went to the other Hein brother, Jesse to close the door. He gave up one hit, before striking out the side to get the save and advance the Stingers to the semi-finals to take on Bemidji.
Garrett Biegler got the win for the Stingers and Jesse Hein picked up the save. At the plate, Austin Paul went 3-for-4 and Gabe Pankonin went 2-for-4.
Stingers battle Bemidji for ten innings
The top two seeds were bound to meet at one point in the tournament, but neither team expected it would be in the semi-finals of the losers' bracket.
Both Perham and Bemidji had to win the game to advance to face Moorhead for a chance to advance to the state tournament.
Perham decided to start a pitcher that few had seen all season, "The Dark Horse" as he's known by his teammates, Ivan Nodsle. Nobody knew what to expect when Nodsle took the mound, with even the coaches muttering amongst themselves, "this could make us look like geniuses or morons." In the end, everyone looked like a genius from both teams.
Nodsle threw strikes, he kept the Bemidji hitters off-balance, and kept Perham in the game. Perham went down quietly in the top of the first and then Nodsle took the hill. He gave up an early run, but was not deterred, as he kept Bemidji on their heels. Perham would come back in the top of the second when Austin Paul came to the plate. Paul had been a streaky player all season, but was showing signs of life in the district tournament. His hot streak continued, as he was telling himself some advice he had had from a teammate's mom: "Aim for the flagpole in center." Paul did just that and sent a mammoth home run over the centerfield fence to give Perham a 2-1 lead.
The score seesawed to a tie in the fifth. The top of the order came up for Perham in the fifth and started with Ty Haverland reaching on an error. Pankonin flew out, before Jordan Hein came to the plate. Hein, the team leader in home runs, sent a shot into orbit over the left field fence for 5-3 lead.
Mark Schumacher took over duties on the mound throwing heat. Bemidji had adjusted to the speed of Nodsle and now they had to re-adjust to Schumacher. Bemidji was threatening and had a couple bleeders squeak through to score two runs and tie the score at five.
The seventh and eighth inning passed with no score. Both teams continued to threaten, but continued to strand runners.
Perham sent their 2-3-4 hitters to the plate in the top of the ninth. With one out, Jordan Hein continued his hot hitting, scorching a double down the left field line. The Stingers were threatening again.
Jesse Hein was intentionally walked and Chris Ruther came to the plate. Bemidji knew Ruther's tendencies to pull the ball. The centerfielder Dom Hayle was shading him to left-center. Ruther beat the shift, sending a deep fly ball to right center field.
Jordan Hein began to go back and tag up, but there seemed no way that the ball was going to be caught. Hayle was on his horse, but it didn't seem like the ball was anywhere near him.
Hayle dove and came up with the ball in his glove. Hein tried to scamper back to second, but was doubled up, ending the rally and taking wind out of the Stingers sails.
Hayle led off the bottom of the tenth for Bemidji with a fly out, before Schumacher began to show some signs of wear in his sixth inning of relief. He would walk a batter, then hit one, before Meece came to the mound for a visit. Schumacher wanted to stay in and wanted to get the win. A great at-bat by Bemidji's three-hitter ended in a walk and loaded the bases. Schumacher continued to battle, throwing strikes and getting fouls. Full count, bottom ten, two out, bases loaded; what more could a baseball fan want? Another great at-bat would end in a walk, and Bemidji would be walk-off walk winners, winning 6-5 in a battle that will be remembered for ages.
Four named All-Tournament
Four Stingers were named to the All-Tournament team for both their bats and their arms. Leading the way with his bat was Austin Paul. Austin batted .583 (7-for-12) with four runs, two doubles, a home run and four RBI in the tournament.
Jordan Hein batted .583 (7-for-12) with six runs, two doubles, one home run, and four RBI. Jordan also pitched 2 innings, giving up two runs.
Jesse Hein batted .500 (5-for-10) with four runs, one double, and three RBI. Jesse also pitched one inning, giving up one hit and striking out three, recording a save.
Mark Schumacher only recorded one at-bat in the tournament, but he pitched five innings in relief in the final game against Bemidji, giving up just four hits and only one run and striking out three.