One loaded tournament

10-team Midsummer Classic stacked with top teams

In the span of two decades, a July American Legion baseball tournament in Ely has gone from an effort to fill the local team’s schedule to one of the premiere regular season events in Minnesota.
Loaded with nine teams, including several of state tournament caliber, the 21st Sir G’s Midsummer Classic starts Friday, runs through Sunday, July 10 and promises a full weekend of top-flight baseball at Veterans Memorial Field.
Two of the teams, defending champion Roseau as well as Wadena, advanced to state tournament play both last summer in Legion ball and again during this spring’s high school season, with Roseau going all the way to the Class AA title game at Target Field.
Back in the field this year is Viroqua (Wisc.), a perennial powerhouse in Badger State baseball and led by coach Pete Swanson, who has amassed more than 1,000 career wins and both state and regional championships.
Add Section 7A runner-up Ely, 7AA runner-up Proctor, perennial 7AA contender Esko and several other solid teams, and the tournament may be as loaded as it’s ever been.
“I say this every year, but I think it bears repeating that from top to bottom, you’re not going to find a better American Legion tournament than this one in northern Minnesota,“ said Ely Head Coach Tom Coombe. “There’s a great mix of talent from across the state. Whoever wins this thing will beat some very, very good teams.”
The tournament consists of 22 games in all, including 15 in Ely, with a Saturday night Roseau-Viroqua clash among the “must-see” matchups of the weekend.
Led by former Elyite Josh Weckman, Roseau finished second in the state in high school baseball and fourth in last year’s Division II state playoffs, also under Weckman’s leadership.
Roseau is led by all-state standout Isaac Wensloff, who is one of numerous college-bound players in the event.
Wadena has become a Midsummer mainstay with a seemingly endless line of players with the last name Dykhoff.
Josh Dykhoff, the youngest of three brothers who have led Wadena to high school and Legion championships, was an all-state player this spring as a senior and heads a strong Legion team that will be in Ely.
Proctor has one of the area’s top catchers in Tanner Olson while Esko is led by Cale Haugen, who earned all-area recognition while leading his high school team to a third-place finish in Section 7AA.
Taconite combines players from both the Greenway and Nashwauk-Keewatin school areas and owns wins over Esko and Roseau already this season, while Cloquet competes at the Legion Division I level.
Another team looking to make some tournament noise is International Falls, which struggled during the high school season but has won five of six to start the Legion campaign - aided by college freshmen Bryant Koenig and Joe Talmage.
The tournament shapes up as a daunting challenge to Ely, which fields one of its youngest teams in recent memory and is looking to build pitching depth in advance of a postseason that begins later in the month.
“We’ll probably be underdogs in every game we play in the Sir G’s but that’s OK,” said Coombe. “Our guys will have to rise up to face some better competition and it will only get us better. It will also help our guys who play Junior Legion and get them more ready for the state tournament here in August.”
The action starts at 10:30 a.m. Friday (see schedule) and the lineup includes 11 games over the first two days in Ely, with four more on Sunday, July 10.
While the event calls for all teams to play four predetermined opponents, the final day schedule could be altered to allow for two unbeaten teams to meet in a true championship game.