Pitching key to Ely’s success

Wolves look to build depth on mound as they look to defend 7A title

by Tom Coombe
Pitching is part of the core of success for any baseball team, and the Ely Timberwolves rode the efforts of a dominant senior pitcher last spring all the way to the state tournament.
This spring, pitching takes on an even larger focus, both for the Timberwolves and in high school baseball as a whole.
New rules, governing the number of pitches that pitchers may throw, cast an imposing shadow over a 2017 season that started Friday, when the Wolves hosted Two Harbors in one of the earliest-ever season-openers at Veterans Memorial Field.
Ely has won three of the last five Section 7A titles, including in 2016 when Patrick Huisman picked up three pitching wins and two saves during the Wolves’ section tournament run.
But Huisman has graduated, and the new rules make it impossible for anyone to step in and even attempt to match that performance this spring.
Pitching depth figures to be at a premium, but longtime head coach Frank Ivancich hopes his team stacks up well compared to many of his 7A foes.
“Teams are going to have to develop more pitching,” said Ivancich, who has amassed 217 wins since taking over the program in 2002, including a 20-7 slate last year. “We’re fortunate that we have a lot of pitchers who play in the summer and have developed some experience. You’re going to have to have four or five guys who can throw.”
The Wolves struggled for much of 2016 to find consistency on the mound beyond Huisman, but juniors Gage Merhar and Dylan Kienitz and sophomore Trevor Mattson all had tastes of success.
Merhar tossed a regular season shutout and had some strong outings during the summer for Ely’s American Legion team, while Kienitz and the left-handed Mattson both logged pivotal innings late in the regular season and again in the 7A and state tournaments. Merhar was 4-3 with 40 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched for the Wolves, while Kienitz finished 3-2 on the hill.
Several others, including juniors Cody Davis and Carter Gaulke, freshman Dalton Schreffler and eighth-grader Joey Pierce could also be part of the Wolves’ pitching rotation.
Behind the plate, Ely has one of 7A’s top receivers in Merhar, a two-time All-Arrowhead Conference selection and a potent left-handed hitting threat. He hit over .400 as a sophomore with 26 runs batted in.
Senior Mark Killoran also earned all-conference honors last year and anchors the outfield in center. He was the Wolves’ leadoff man last year and will likely remain in that spot again. He hit .300 with 28 runs scored.
Both sophomore Tyler Housey and Schreffler were in Ely’s lineup at the state tournament and got plenty of at bats during the summer season.
The Ely lineup figures to be a work in progress, with Ivancich also working in the likes of Gaulke and junior infielder Thomas Montana, with a bevy of others, including Pierce, freshman infielder Nils DeRemee and freshman outfielder Luke Olson.
“We’re young but we’re not inexperienced,” said Ivancich. “A lot of our younger guys have a full season or two of VFW baseball under their belt and some of these guys have played Legion as well. That’s so important in their development and puts us at an advantage against a lot of the teams we play.”
Most of the Wolves were part of last year’s state tournament team and Ivancich says his team is hungry for another taste of success.
“Our goal like it is every year is to contend in the section and have a chance to get to the state tournament,” said Ivancich. “I think most of our guys know what it takes and how fun last year’s ride was.”
Ely’s busy regular season slate includes an Apr. 21-22 road trip to meet two 2016 state tournament teams: Hinckley-Finlayson and Legacy Christian Academy.
The Wolves will also host seven other teams in the fourth annual Veterans Memorial Showcase, slated for May 19-20.

Ely Timberwolves
Baseball - 2017 Schedule

Apr. 7: Two Harbors
Apr. 13: at Greenway
Apr. 18: at Cherry
Apr. 20: Littlefork-Big Falls, 1:30 p.m.
Apr. 21: at Hinckley
Apr. 22: at Legacy Christian, 11 a.m.
Apr. 25: at Northwoods
Apr. 27: at Deer River
May 1: South Ridge
May 4: at Mt. Iron-Buhl
May 6: at Cook County, noon
May 8: Chisholm
May 9: Northeast Range
May 12: Silver Bay
May 16: at Mes. East
May 19: Blackduck, noon
May 19: Mpls. South, 7:30
May 20: Int. Falls, 6:30
May 22: at Eveleth-Gilb.
May 24: Nash.-Kee.
Games at 4:30 p.m. unless noted