Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Historic Week for the BSU Baseball Team

It was quite the week for the Bemidji State baseball program. The Bemidji State baseball team made history almost every day in week that saw the Beavers earn the No. 8 seed in the NSIC Tournament, rack-up six league awards, defeat No. 1 seed and host St. Cloud State – twice – and play for a NSIC Tournament Championship.

It all started Sunday. The Beavers never make anything easy on themselves, so of course, their bid for the NSIC Tournament came down to the last day, actually the last out of the regular season. It was simple. Win and you’re in. Easier said than done with St. Cloud State - the NSIC's top team - in town.

BSU ended up losing both games and two losses on the last day of the season isn’t how you want to go out, but the Beavers knew a Sioux Falls loss to Winona State would also get them into the postseason.

Finishing slightly ahead of the game played in Winona, the majority of the team huddled around a smart phone that showed live stats for the Sioux Falls/Winona State game two – USF had won game one – and celebrated when Winona State recorded the final out in a 9-8 contest that sent the Beavers to the NSIC Tournament for the first time since 2008.

Little did they know it was just the beginning of something special.

Later that day, the official announcement was released that the Beavers were headed to the NSIC Tournament and would play the regular season champs and No. 1 seed St. Cloud State.

Practice was light Monday, but oddly enough it was the first time the Beavers were able to practice on the BSU Baseball Field all season, due to the extension of winter through the month of April. Despite playing SCSU four times and losing three, the Beavers were optimistic about their chances against the Huskies.

“The pressure is probably a little more on them, than it is on us. We are going to go in loose and get after it,” said head coach Tim Bellew in a video preview of the tournament that included comments from three of the 10 seniors.

Tuesday, while the team was taking some batting practice before heading on the bus to St. Cloud, the 2013 NSIC postseason awards were announced. The awards, nominated and voted upon by the league's coaches, saw six Beavers honored - the most since 1997 – and included Tim Bellew as the NSIC Coach of the Year.

When I asked Tim later about the award he said, “I figured the other 14 coaches had resigned and I didn’t get the memo.” A modest comment from a skipper that is well-deserving of the honor.

In his eighth year at Bemidji State, Tim guided the Beavers to their second 20-win season and a trip to the postseason for the first time in five years. The league coaches proved that respect doesn’t always come in the form of conference championships or national rankings. What Tim has done with the program hasn’t gone unnoticed and that was proven when his league counterparts chose him for the honor. 

More proof of Tim’s abilities were his All-NSIC honorees, which included four-year player Lewis Baumann who earned first team laurels. He hit .102 as a freshman .266 as a sophomore, .321 as a junior and posted a .397 average as a senior, and if it weren’t for a hamstring injury during the last week and a half of the season, he probably would have been the first Beaver since 2002 to finish with a batting average over .400.

The awards were a nice compliment, but the real task was Wednesday when the Beavers battled the Huskies in the first round of the NSIC Tournament. Behind the arm of lefty Phil Bray and two big offensive innings that gave the Beavers an 8-1 lead, Bemidji State upended St. Cloud State 9-3 to advance to the winner’s bracket and upset the top seed of the tournament.

“I just went out there and threw fastballs, curve balls, tried to keep them off balance. Zach called a great game, the boys came out hitting right away and gave me a lead the entire game, I couldn’t ask for more,” Bray said in the postgame interviews.

A beautiful Wednesday morning and afternoon gave way to clouds and rain that continued through most of Thursday, pushing the start time back to 7 p.m. for the Beavers’ second round game against No. 4 seed Winona State. It might have been the delay, or maybe just nerves that led to the slow start in the game against the Warriors, as BSU trailed 4-0 through four, but the bats came alive late to set-up the heroics of senior Jaryd Marks, as he delivered the walk-off single through the right side to plate the winning run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to advance the Beavers with the 5-4 victory.

“We are a team right now. We are battling every game,” Marks said in the postgame interviews.

The win pitted the Beavers against No. 2 seed Minnesota State Friday to advance to the NSIC Tournament Championship, but unfortunately, the Beavers couldn’t get the bats going and lost 2-1.

“We have been playing well in all three facets of the game this year, just had trouble putting them together today. Tomorrow we have to get all three facets back and take it to ‘em,” Lewis Baumann said in the postgame interviews.

Bring all three facets back they did.

St. Cloud State worked its way through the loser’s bracket after falling to the Beavers, which set-up the rematch Saturday morning to advance to play MSU in the championship. Entering the tournament, SCSU had the best team ERA in the nation at 2.04. That stat was not in the heads of the Beavers, as the team posted 12 runs on 14 hits to down the Huskies and escort them from the tournament 12-2. BSU got an inspired starting performance from senior Ryan Anderson, which he talks about HERE.

Just six days prior, the Beavers were huddled around a phone to see their postseason fate, now they would be playing in the NSIC Tournament Championship as the No. 8 seed. Because the tournament is double elimination, the Beavers knew they would have to beat Minnesota State twice, but first thing first, a Saturday afternoon clash with the Mavericks.

The game was intense, as Bray asked for the ball and toed the mound for the second time in just a 72-hour span. After getting hit around a little bit in the first and allowing a run. He settled in and retired 17 straight batters from the second through the seventh. He did that mostly with the game tied 1-1, as the Beavers produced one in the fourth. Tied all the way to the eighth, the Mavericks showed their poise and got the big hit to plate two and take the 3-1 lead. The 3-1 advantage would hold, as there was no more magic in the Beaver bats and the season came to an end.

After the team huddle in left field, the 10 seniors had thier own meeting with the coaching staff to take in as much of their last moments as Beaver baseball players.

“[The seniors] have been incredible. They have been the backbone. We are going to miss those guys, but they are going to help our program in the future by helping us get better recruits,” Tim said in the postgame interviews.

It probably didn’t sink in on the field, and maybe it still hasn’t, but this senior class did something special at Bemidji State.

In 2013, the Beavers totaled a 25-22 record to tie the program record for second most wins in a season. The record was the first overall mark above .500 by a Beaver team since 2002 and just the 11th time overall. The back-to-back 20 win seasons has happened just one other time in program history and the run to the NSIC Tournament Championship is the furthest a Beaver team has ever reached since the 1997 team also lost in the finale.

It was a week to remember for the Beaver baseball program and an amazing way to close the 2012-13 academic year for Bemidji State athletics.

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