For Legion, an early end; Post 248 knocked out in districts, closing shortest season in history

The shortest season in Ely American Legion baseball history ended in a matter of hours at Veterans Memorial Field.
Two close defeats in the Eighth District Division II playoffs knocked Post 248 out of the tournament on Friday, July 22.
Esko pushed across runs in the fifth and sixth innings and escaped a jam in the seventh to prevail 8-6 in a winners’ bracket tilt.
Ely, which finished 10-9, had little time to recover as it was back on the field immeditately afterward and fell 5-2 to eventual district runner-up Proctor.
After starting the season late because of the high school baseball team’s trip to the state tournament, the Legion team jammed 19 games into a month, with postseason play a week earlier than usual because of a calendar quirk.
The net result was Ely played the fewest amount of games in decades and the season was over at the earliest date in program history.
“It was a fast, fast season,” said Ely Head Coach Tom Coombe. “In a blink of an eye, it seemed to pass by and it’s very strange to be done so soon.”
Ely, which had some momentum after an 8-2, opening round victory over Two Harbors, had a disastrous first inning against Esko (9-7).
The second-seeded Eskomos sent 10 players to the plate in the top of the first inning, scoring six times and capitalizing on a pair of misplayed balls, two bloop hits, and a costly Ely error.
But starting pitcher Gage Merhar settled in after that, and Post 248 began to chip away.
Tyler Housey’s two-run single plated Cole Kellogg and Dylan Kienitz in the top of the fourth, but starting pitcher Brody Kaldahl worked out of a jam and stranded two runners.
Kaldahl wouldn’t be so fortunate in the fifth, when Ely rapped out five straight hits.
Andy Krunkkala’s single closed the gap to 6-3, and Joe Wenzel delivered the key blow: a bases-clearing, game-tying double to center.
Reliever and eventual winning pitcher Derek Peterson put out the fire, stranding Wenzel in scoring position.
Esko seized momentum right back in the bottom of the fifth, pouncing after an Ely error and taking the lead on a bad-hop single.
Peterson added insurance with his solo home run in the bottom of the sixth.
Ely had one last chance in the seventh, with Kellogg and Kienitz both reaching base.
Peterson dug in, got a strikeout and a double-play ball and Esko won the back-and-forth affair.
“It was a nice comeback, and we had our chances to win,” said Coombe. “We dug ourselves a bit of a hole in the first inning, and we could have easily rolled over and been finished. But our guys have been resilient all year and they showed it again.”
Kellogg and Darnell Goggleye had two hits each for Ely, while Merhar was tagged with the pitching loss. The sophomore went five and two-thirds innings, allowing four earned runs and eight hits with five strikeouts.
The loss put the hosts in the elimination round, where Proctor awaited.
Ely upset the Section 7AA high school champs during the regular season, but Proctor pounced in the rematch.
Proctor scored three times on five hits in the first and chased Kienitz in the second, scoring two more runs.
Relievers Goggleye and Kyle Durbin held Proctor in check from there, and Ely looked to mount one more comeback.
Goggleye and Krunkkala knocked in runs in the fourth to make it 5-2, but Ely stranded two more runners.
Post 248’s best chance came in the fifth, when it loaded the bases against starter John Aaase, but the lefty notched a strike out to get out of trouble.
Aase wasn’t challenged the rest of the game and finished with a two-hitter and 11 strikeouts and sent Ely home for the season.
The loss ended the careers of three Ely Legion graduates - Durbin, Kellogg and Krunkkala.
“All three were great contributors to our program and we’re going to miss them a lot,” said Coombe. “It was a short season, but I’m proud of what these guys accomplished. We had injuries and absences and guys who decided not to play, but this team pulled together, had some fun and had a winning record. The only other Class A teams in our section that had Legion teams combined to win only two games. Our group has a lot to be proud of.”