May 25—BEMIDJI — Dan Clusiau has been preparing for a day like this for a while.
The Bemidji High School baseball team's emerging ace entered a showdown against Brainerd with a 1.11 ERA this season, the best on the Lumberjacks' pitching staff. But on Tuesday at the BSU baseball field, he leveled up.
Clusiau fired 5 2/3 shutout innings, setting Bemidji up for a crucial 1-0 section win over the Warriors and helping fulfill the Jacks' stated goal of starting to peak prior to the section playoffs.
"Dan has been building a ton of momentum at this point," Lumberjacks head coach Mike Fogelson said. "He's pitched better every start. His pitch count's gone up. He did a great job. And like I was telling the guys, any baseball team, if you could start with good pitching, you're always going to be in the game."
Clusiau exceeded 105 pitches for the first time all year, and the junior made them count, finishing with 12 strikeouts. Then, he handed the ball over to Ethan Biehn, who retired the next four hitters to earn the save.
In the fifth, Clusiau ran into some trouble. After Will Zellmann misplayed a fly ball in left field, Clusiau found himself saddled with a runner on second base and no outs. Clusiau then walked Matt Karlson, and Eric Eidenshink bunted for a hit to load the bases. At that point, things were looking dangerous for Bemidji (11-7).
But Clusiau settled down, striking out the next two batters for Brainerd (7-10) and inducing a harmless ground ball to deftly defuse the situation.
"I was really nervous when the bases were loaded and zero outs," Clusiau said. "So I just took a deep breath and tried to work out of it, and then I eventually did."
There were more deep breaths in the sixth inning, when Clusiau departed the game with a runner on second and two outs. But Biehn calmed the waters — and Clusiau's racing pulse — by retiring the side with a grounder to first.
"It was huge," Clusiau said. "I was nervous. (But) he pitched good."
The Jacks manufactured their lone run in the third inning. Hunter Brodina led off with a bunt single, giving Bemidji a heady presence on the bases to start the frame. It came in handy when Brodina stole second and later scored on Zellmann's RBI single.
"Do whatever it takes to try to score a run," Fogelson said. "Give a lot of credit to Hunter Brodina there. Very savvy baseball player. Saw the third baseman playing back, laid down a perfect bunt. Got a great jump on his own, he's green-lighted on the bases. So he steals that one all by himself, gets himself in scoring position. And then Will Zellmann with a huge hit. Everything's magnified in a low-scoring game, so those plays were huge."
In the seventh and final frame, Peyton Neadeau had a crisp pick at shortstop to record the final out, capping the Lumberjacks' pitching-and-defense special with a flourish.
But the day belonged to Clusiau, who showed just how good he can be — and how much of a difference he could make when Bemidji starts the Section 8-4A Tournament next week.
"He's been building up arm strength." Fogelson said. "And today, he used all 105 pitches. It was awesome. Hopefully, he'll feel real good coming off this one. But it was impressive. He strikes a lot of guys out, he gets a lot of swing and misses. (He's) fun to watch. Really fun to watch."
The Jacks will next travel to face Eastview at 3 p.m. on Thursday, May 26, in Eastview.