'Don't stink:' Perham dominates Pelican Rapids and Fergus Falls, puts upset scare in the past
The Perham baseball team cruised past two Section 8-2A South foes to set up a game against the North's second-seed, Roseau, for a chance to go to the section championship.
PERHAM – Before Thursday's Section 8-2A playoff baseball doubleheader, Perham head coach James Mulcahy went to the dollar store and picked up a plethora of body spray fragrances.
The message to his team was, "don't stink." Perham (22-1) then scored 26 runs in 12 innings in an 18-1 win over Pelican Rapids (11-11) and an 8-1 win over Fergus Falls (6-15) to stay unbeaten in the 8-2A playoffs.
"I got a bunch of Old Spice and Axe body spray before the game," Mulcahy said. "What happens is if you strike out looking or make an error in the field–anything that means you stunk in that moment–you have to own it, grab the body spray and put it on. I had to do it too when I missed a ground ball in the coach's box. When you can own your mistakes and embrace them, it's nice to add an element of fun to lighten things up."
The motivation for body spray spawned from Tuesday's near-catastrophic upset to the South's eighth-seeded team. Barnesville led 10-9 after an eight-run fifth inning until Perham took a 12-10 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning.
It was a scare that nearly ended the Yellowjackets' season before reaching the double-elimination portion of the section playoffs.
"We started not doing the little things, which became big things," Mulcahy said of the first-round game against Barnesville. "There's an energy that's brought to the game when you hustle in and out of the dugout, you back up the bases and you have a hustle to you. We got complacent, and we just couldn't get it going until the sixth inning. Barnesville started to roll, and we didn't have the right energy or vibe to respond."
There was no sense of a near-upset hangover for the Yellowjackets. They scored 16 runs in their first three innings against fourth-seeded Pelican Rapids. Chas Melvin, Logan Pulju and Mason Schepper homered in the big win to set up a third-round matchup against third-seeded Fergus Falls.
The Otters, who sent second-seeded Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (16-7) to the elimination bracket on Thursday, quickly found out the Yellowjackets weren't there to mess around.
Ben Shumansky cleared the fence in left field for a two-run blast before Rian Solberg took one over the right-field wall three pitches later. Shumansky and Solberg were doused with a cheap fragrance called "Raw Power" from their teammates after crossing home plate.
"It takes the pressure off of our starting pitcher and the guys in the field," Shumansky said on taking an early lead. "Getting that cushion is huge for confidence."
In the bottom of the second inning, Gamble Bye got in on the home run party with a solo shot to lead off the inning. Melvin added a two-run shot in the fourth inning for his second long ball of the afternoon. Perham hit seven home runs in 12 innings on Thursday.
"No. Plain and simple–no," Mulcahy said when asked if he's coached a team with this much power at the plate. "These guys bought into the weight room. Many of them play two or three sports. We have practice (on Friday) at 3:30, and they all said they'll be in the weight room at 5. On a Friday night in the summer in the middle of a playoff run, you know a team is bought in when they're going to the weight room like that on their own. They're leading each other."
Melvin didn't allow an earned run in six innings in game two. He struck out seven batters and gave up only five hits in the win.
Gage Germolus threw four innings and allowed one run against Pelican Rapids. He struck out six batters and allowed two hits to help keep Perham in the winner's bracket.
"Our approach was to beat our opponents in every part of the game," Shumansky said. "If we have a bad inning, we have to let it go. It doesn't need to stick with us… We were focused at the plate today and had a great approach. I think the bats got quiet towards the end there, but when you score 18 runs in a game, that's going to happen."
A lousy inning is all it takes to derail a playoff run.
"It was an extreme wake-up call for us," Shumansky said of Tuesday's game against Barnesville. "Our season could've been over just like that. We came out here today amped up and ready to go today."
"We know we're the one-seed, so we have to play like it," Bye said. "I think once that pressure was out of the way, we settled down. We have to come to the plate like we did today and focus a little bit more every time."
From Charlotte to Perham
One of the additions to the Perham baseball team didn't come from the middle school ranks. Bye is a shortstop who moved from Charlotte, NC, to Perham.
"It was a tough move, but I have family that lives here," Bye said. "It just needed to happen. I had no idea what I was coming into when I came here. I played on a pretty good team at my last school. So coming here and getting to play on another very good team is a blessing."
Bye felt embraced by the community when from the second he arrived. The junior is happy to be part of a team and a community that cares about local athletics.
"Everyone has helped me from the first day I got here," Bye said. "Everyone reached out asking if I needed anything and welcomed me to be a part of this community. It feels good to be a part of it, but we have more work to do. We're not finished yet."
Bye got his first taste of playoff baseball and saw how quickly it could end without the right mindset. Now that the Barnesville game is truly in the past, the Yellowjackets are looking forward to Tuesday in Park Rapids with the hopes of clinching a spot in the section championship against Roseau (15-5), the second seed in the North sub-section.
"I think it was the practice we had Wednesday," Bye said on what changed from Tuesday to Thursday. "We came out and had a really good effort. We had fun, and we locked in. We just have to play our game."
"It's going to be a dog fight," Shumansky said of Tuesday's game against Roseau. "Work as hard as we can and don't make any errors. Hopefully, we can come out on top."