Ace emerges for Ironmen

Freshman Ritchie pitches Vermilion past Northern Division foes

In what has turned into a sprint of a divisional season, freshman Ian Ritchie has proven to be a find for the Vermilion Ironmen.
The lefthander picked up two pitching wins in a span of a week, bringing his season total to four and emerging as a first-year surprise for the community college baseball team.
Ritchie went the distance Wednesday at Aurora, where Vermilion upended Hibbing 4-2 in the opening game of a Northern Division doubleheader.
He also was on the hill six days earlier in Brainerd, holding Rainy River to two runs through five frames in a game that VCC eventually won 12-9.
For the Ironmen, who starting Saturday have three doubleheaders in a span of five days to close out the regular season, Ritchie has been a constant in the pitching rotation.
The Hermantown graduate has wins in four of five decisions and dominated against Hibbing, yielding just two unearned runs while scattering six hits.
“Ian has been very consistent for us,” said Vermilion Head Coach Tom Coombe. “He goes out and competes every time out and gives us a chance whenever he’s on the mound. He has picked up some velocity and has become tough to hit.”
Pitching is a premium in any baseball season, even more so this spring with games compressed into a short period of time.
Ritchie, together with sophomore Andrew Birko, who beat traditional division power Itasca last week, have been two key additions to a rotation that includes sophomores Ryan Kling and Jacob Worley.
Depth on the mound figures to be pivotal in the six-game stretch to end the regular season, as well as the Northern Division Tournament, set to be held in Ely and Aurora May 7-8.
With the regular season slate shortened because of a series of weather-related postponements, all six
Northern Division teams will gather here next weekend instead for a double-elimination tournament.
The top-three finishers move on the Region 13 Tournament set for St. Cloud the following week.
“The tournament makes this thing wide open,” said Coombe. “Usually you play 20 division games to find the top-three teams to move on to regionals. Now it all comes down to one weekend and one tournament. Really any of the six teams have a chance to move on and it will come down to who gets hot that weekend. You have to win at least two games to advance.”
With Ritchie on the mound, VCC kept Hibbing at bay Wednesday and got all the runs it needed in the bottom of the third.
The key blow was a two-run home run by sophomore Terren Sugita, his third round-tripper of the season.
In the nightcap, VCC’s Graham Porter had two hits while Zach Cheney doubled, drove in a run and scored once, but Hibbing won 6-3.
Birko went four innings and got the loss and Dillon Eden worked in relief, notching four strikeouts in two innings.
Kling took the loss in Sunday’s opener at Wade Stadium in Duluth, where Itasca opened up a tight game late and went on to an 8-1 victory.
The Vikings completed the sweep with a 15-9 win in the nightcap, although Sugita had four runs batted in, including a bases-clearing double.
Cheney, Porter and Jovann Hamlin-Arana all had two hits for the Ironmen, while Worley was tagged with the pitching loss.
Two days earlier, the same two teams met at Brainerd with Vermilion winning the opener 10-4.
Birko, who hails from Florida, tossed a complete-game eight-hitter with six strikeouts.
The Vikings touched him up for two first-inning runs and another in the second but then he settled in.
He was backed by plenty of offense, with the Ironmen scoring four times in both the second and third frames.
Eden drove in three runs, lining a two-run single in the second and adding a sacrifice fly in the third.
Dalton Cantrell had two hits and scored twice, while Hamlin-Arana had two hits and Cameron Peterson scored two runs.
Itasca gained the split with a 12-4 triumph in the second game, although Cantrell had two hits and two RBI and Worley finished with two hits.
The busy stretch began April 23 at Brainerd, with VCC outscoring Rainy River 12-9 in the opener.
Ritchie struck out seven and gave up two runs, but the Voyageurs rallied against the Vermilion bullpen and Birko came on late to record the save.
At the plate, Porter was four-for-four with four runs scored and three RBI, while Cantrell added two hits and three RBI.
Kling finished two-for-three with two RBI, while Jesus Trejo added two hits and Peterson finished with two hits and two runs scored.
Sugita drove in three runs, two on a long double, as VCC led Rainy River 4-2 after four innings of a nightcap called off by darkness.
Peterson was on the mound for the Ironmen, fanning five batters and giving up four hits.