VCC surges into league play

With 10 wins, Ironmen tops list of Northern Division contenders

The Vermilion Ironmen are in an unfamiliar but welcome position as Northern Divison community college baseball play begins this weekend.
With 10 wins in their first 16 contests, the Ironmen are the only team in the North with a winning record and they lead the five-team circuit with the best overall record in non-conference play.
Vermilion hopes to continue its string of recent success during the 16-game divison slate, which starts with doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday against defending champion Hibbing.
“Everyone starts 0-0 now,” said head coach Tom Coombe. “I think we’ve shown so far we can contend for a spot in the postseason and compete in our division, but we’ll have to show that on the field. These games so far don’t really mean anything when it comes to advancing.”
Nonetheless, VCC has reached double digits in victories for the first time since 2017, and the Ironmen have shown a potent combination of offense and pitching en route to a solid start.
That include an eruption Tuesday that may have been the best in program history.
Vermilion scored 18 runs - all with two outs - in the top of the third inning of a 19-9 win over Itasca.
Terren Sugita’s grand slam capped a stretch in which 18 straight Vermilion batters reached base.
Cameron Peterson launched his first career home run during the frame, and Caden Schillinger had both a two-run double and two-run single during a rally aided by numerous walks and a couple of untimely errors.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Coombe. “And that’s in more than 30 years of coaching. I’ve seen teams get 10 or 12 runs in an inning before, but 18, after two outs and nobody on is something I’ve never seen before and I doubt will ever see again.”
Sugita, who leads the Minnesota Community Athletic Conference with five home runs and ranks second with 22 runs batted in, leads a VCC offense that has compiled a sizzling .325 team batting average.
Peterson, a native of Callahan, Fla., is hitting a team-high .526 while Alaska product Sugita is next at .458.
Freshman infielder Jonathan Leon is next at .426, followed by freshman catcher Graham Porter (.393) and sophomore pitcher/outfielder Jakob Wiirre (.389, 2 HR, 20 RBI). Freshman pitcher/first baseman Jacob Worley is batting .366.
“The top of our order can be explosive and in division play as you get into four game series, we’re going to have to be able to outscore some teams,” said Coombe.
Freshman pitcher Steven Peterson of Bemidji scattered nine hits to get the win against Itasca, in a Tuesday twinbill on the artificial turf at Aurora.
Itasca won the opener 13-6 despite two hits by Sugita, including a two-run home run, and two hits by Porter.
Vermilion split four games last weekend at Brainerd’s CLC Classic.
The highlight was Saturday’s wild, 11-10, nine-inning win over host Central Lakes, which is expected to be a top contender for the regional title.
Consecutive two-out extra base hits by Leon, Worley and Sugita snapped an eight-all deadlock in the top of the ninth, and VCC held on in the bottom half of the frame.
Sugita worked two innings on the mound in relief of Wiirre to get the win.
Wiirre battled control problems while containing a high-powered Raiders team. He fanned 10 while going seven innings.
Peterson went five-for-six, while Wiirre and Sugita had three and Leon finished with two.
The game was a rollercoaster ride of sorts, with VCC falling behind 3-1, rallying to lead 7-3 and watching the Raiders rally and tie the game with an unearned run in the sixth.
Catcher Dalton Cantrell nailed two Raider runners in the game and held on to a throw from rightfielder Caden Schillinger to put out the would-be go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth.
Wiirre also worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh to force extra inings.
VCC lost Saturday’s nightcap 6-5 to Anoka-Ramsey, with pitcher Ryan Kling giving up just two earned runs while going the distance.
The Ironmen opened play in the CLC Classic with an 8-5, April 2 win over Rainy River.
Wiirre had three-run and two-run homers in the contest while pitcher Alan Justin worked four innings of scoreless relief to gain his first win of the spring.
Cantrell had two doubles for the Ironmen.
Central Lakes broke open a 3-3 game in the bottom of the third to take the second game that day by a score of 13-3.
• After this weekend’s series with Hibbing, Vermilion will play four games next week with Mesabi the weekend of Apr. 17-18, including an Apr. 18 twinbill in Ely.