Pitching-rich Ely waits to play ball

Wolves return most of starting lineup from 2017 state tourney team

(EDITOR’S NOTE: this week the Echo previews Ely’s baseball and boys track teams. Golf, girls track and softball to be featured next week)

by Tom Coombe -

Ely appears have more pitching than any high school baseball team in Section 7A.
That should bode well for the Timberwolves when they finally begin the 2018 season.
With winter slow to depart, snow still covering area fields and postponements piling up for teams across northern Minnesota (see related story), pitching will be at even more of a premium this spring.
The two-time defending Section 7A champion Wolves have an arsenal of talented and experienced arms, as well as nearly all of the starting lineup back from a team that went 20-10 in 2017 and made a surprising run through the section tournament.
All-7A standouts Gage Merhar and Trevor Mattson return, and the Wolves also are poised to get a big boost from senior Dylan Kienitz, who missed nearly all of last spring with a knee injury.
Throw seniors Carter Gaulke and Cody Davis into the mix along with sophomore Dalton Schreffler and Ely seems well-stocked for the inevitable pileup of makeup games that will result from a weather-wracked schedule.
“We have high hopes and a lot of expectations,” said Ely Head Coach Frank Ivancich, who has guided the Wolves to four state tournament berths in the last six seasons. “We have pitching and guys who have a lot of experience in big games and in summer ball. Our goal is to get back to the state tournament again.”
Everything starts on the mound for the Wolves, who boast a rotation that few Class A teams can match.
Merhar battled arm trouble for much of his junior campaign but returned to the hill and delivered a clutch performance in the 7A finals against Deer River.
Mattson, meanwhile, picked up a team-high six wins last spring. Two came in the playoffs and the sophomore lefty recorded a 1.81 earned run average for the year, which included a tough-luck loss in the consolation round of the state tournament.
Kienitz was expected to be the ace of Ely’s staff until he suffered a season-ending knee injury at Hinckley. He logged state tournament innings as a sophomore and adds another hard-throwing arm to the staff.
The depth of Ely’s staff is impressive, with Gaulke tossing a shutout in a section playoff game last year and Davis working key innings in relief.
Schreffler got the ball in the deciding 7A game with Deer River and has plenty of pitching experience from VFW baseball as well.
“We’re going to be able to put quality pitchers out there even if we get games backed up due to weather,” said Ivancich. “That’s a big advantage for us, especially with the pitch count rules that are in place. Our pitchers have looked good in the gym so far. If we can cut down on our walks we will be tough to beat.”
In addition to on the mound, the Wolves will also look - at the plate and in the field - much like the team that advanced to state last year.
Merhar heads an impressive lineup. The fourth-year starter and three-time All-Arrowhead Conference selection, who has already committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, led the Wolves in runs batted in as a junior and is coming off of a monster summer. The left-handed hitting slugger hit eight home runs and had over 40 runs batted in for Ely’s American Legion team last summer. He’ll start either at shortstop or catcher when not on the mound.
Gaulke was Ely’s catcher for the bulk of the 2017 season, while the Wolves’ infield will be anchored by Kienitz and senior Thomas Montana on the left side, with both Davis and sophomore Nils DeRemee in the mix for playing time at second base.
Mattson is Ely’s first baseman, while Schreffler could fill in at shortstop.
In the outfield, Schreffler has been a two-year starter, as has junior Tyler Housey. They’ll cover plenty of ground in the outfield along with sophomore Luke Olson, who came on strong at the end of the 2017 season.
Junior Ryan Quick was Ely’s designated hitter for much of last year, adding another potent bat while providing depth at catcher and in the infield.
Several others could be in the mix for playing time as well in a deep Ely program.
Ivancich, who is assisted by Cory Lassi, Aaron Donais and Paul Kienitz, welcomed over 40 players out for baseball in grades 7-12.
“We had something like 15 or 16 different people start in games for us last year and we are blessed with a lot of depth for a Class A program,” said Ivancich. “There’s a lot of tradition with our program with both spring and summer baseball and it’s good to see so many kids excited about playing baseball.”
The numbers have resulted in a beefed-up schedule, including an April 20-21 trip to Hinckley and the Twin Cities, as well as a home junior varsity tournament with the likes of Esko and International Falls.
South Ridge and Cook County may be the Wolves’ two primary challengers in 7A.

Ely Timberwolves
Baseball - 2018 Schedule

Apr. 14: at Two Harbors, noon
Apr. 17:at Chisholm
Apr. 21: at Hinckley
Apr. 22: at Legacy
Christian, 11 a.m.
Apr. 24: Northwoods
Apr. 26: Deer River
Apr. 30: at South Ridge
May 3: at Mt. Iron-Buhl
May 4: Greenway
May 5: Cook County, 10 a.m.
May 7: at Silver Bay
May 8: at Northeast Range
May 10: Cherry
May 15: Mes. East
May 18: Virginia, noon
May 18: Mounds Park Academy, 7:30
May 19: Int. Falls, 6:30
May 21 : Eveleth-Gilb.
May 24: at Nash.-Kee..

Games at 4:30 p.m. unless noted