Ely sixth in state tourney

Hosts put up a fight, take champs to the limit and blank Hayfield in consolation round behind Marolt’s pitching and Leeson’s diving catch

by Tom Coombe
This host team was no pushover.
Ely didn’t earn its way into this year’s Junior Legion Division II State Baseball Tournament, but one wouldn’t have known that based on the results.
Post 248 picked up one win in the tournament and nearly knocked off the eventual state champion while finishing sixth in the eight-team field.
In the opening round, Ely gave unbeaten Montevideo a scare before falling 4-3 before a huge opening night crowd at Veterans Memorial Field.
The consolation round game on Aug. 5 was even more exciting for Post 248, which got a shutout from pitcher Drew Marolt and the defensive play of the weekend from outfielder Sam Leeson in a 1-0 win against Hayfield.
Sleepy Eye pulled away in the seventh inning for a 6-2 win over the hosts in Saturday’s consolation final but by then, a young Ely team had turned more than a few heads.
It was quite a turnaround after Ely, which finished 17-9, lost two straight games in substate competition the week before.
“The whole tournament was great, competitive throughout,” said head coach Jim Wittrup. “We had a great season and finished it up with an outstanding showing in the state tournament. The kids have a lot to be proud of. We had three extremely well pitched games.”
Ely had its eye on an upset in the opening round, and led early on before Montevideo pulled out a one-run win, scoring a pair of unearned runs in the sixth to overcome a 3-2 deficit.
That spoiled a brilliantly-pitched game by Ely lefty Louie Panichi.
A sophomore-to-be at nearby North Woods, Panichi went the distance and threw only 66 pitches. He allowed only one earned run and gave up four hits.
“Louie was dominant against the eventual state champs and deserved a better outcome,” said Wittrup. “Unfortunately both times we were able to take the lead we made a miscue in the bottom of the inning to give it back.”
Both Marolt and Erron Anderson hit run-scoring doubles in the top of the third to put Ely ahead 2-1, but Montevideo tied it in the bottom of the inning.
Post 248 pulled ahead in the top of the sixth only to see Montevideo capitalized on two sixth-inning errors to take the lead.
Ely went down in order in the top of the seventh.
Both Panichi and Caid Chittum singled and scored for Ely.
In the consolation semifinal, Marolt worked into and out of trouble while firing the shutout.
The righthander tossed a three-hitter and struck out eight, and some seventh-inning defensive heroics sealed the win.
With a runner on first and nobody out, Leeson chased down a fly ball in left field, extended his body and snared the ball to the delight of the hometown crowd and stunning Hayfield.
Catcher Brecken Sandberg then threw out a runner attempting to steal and Marolt notched a strikeout to close things out.
“A 1-0 shutout is awesome in itself, but next level in a state tourney,” said Wittrup. “The defense was outstanding, with Sam icing it with the catch and followed by Brecken throwing the pinch runner out from his knees.”
Wittrup called Leeson’s catch one of the best in Ely baseball history.
Deegan Richards doubled and scored Ely’s only run, coming home when Erron Anderson was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the top of the fourth.
After the victory, Ely was matched with Sleepy Eye in the consolation final and jumped out to an early lead with a run in the first inning.
Sleepy Eye countered and grabbed a 3-2 edge that held until the top of the seventh, when the visitors scored three insurance runs.
“Brecken stepped up in game three and combined with Caid to keep it close until a couple of mishaps in the last inning,” said Wittrup. “Overall it was a great experience for the whole team and showed the kids they can compete at a high level, and I couldn’t be more proud of their effort. We have a lot to look forward to.”
Sandberg worked the first six innings on the mound, giving up five hits, while Chittum gave up three runs - just one earned in the seventh.
Richards paced the Ely offense with three hits while Chittum collected two.
Both Panichi and Leeson had run-scoring hits.