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Ely Legion team counts on pitching staff

The return of three top pitchers gives Ely’s American Legion baseball team three good reasons to be optimistic about the 2004 season, which starts today with a 7 p.m. game at Marble.Last year, Post 248 won its fifth Eighth District Division II title and finished third in the state tournament, held at Ely’s Veterans Memorial Field.The return of six starters - and three of the top pitchers in northeastern Minnesota - make Ely a leading contender for another district crown.Josh Weckman, who went 9-1 during the high school season, joins Josh Mathson and Tim Scott in giving Ely a starting rotation that few area teams can match.“There’s no doubt that pitching is going to be our strength,” said Tom Coombe, who begins his 11th season as Ely’s head coach. “I think we have three guys, who on any given night, can go out and shut good teams down.”Weckman won six games last summer for Ely and was undefeated on the mound this spring until the Timberwolves’ season-ending playoff defeat against Esko. The Ely graduate mixes a hard fastball with good command of his offspeed pitches to keep hitters off balance.But Weckman is just part of Ely’s pitching arsenal.Mathson, who set a state record by hitting 32 home runs in his high school baseball career (for Babbitt-Embarrass-Soudan-Tower) also had 33 pitching wins in five prep seasons and went 5-2 at the Legion level in 2003.Scott was hampered by injuries and ineffectiveness last year, but the hard-throwing lefty picked up a win in the state tournament third-place game and has shown plenty of promise during the high school season.The pitching staff should have plenty of defensive support.Senior catcher David Urbas has kept opposing baserunners at bay, while the infield is set with the return of starters Cory Lassi (first base), Kevin Pope (second base), Mathson (shortstop) and Ben Barnes (third base).Joel Dostert, a 2003 high school graduate, is young enough to play another season of Legion ball and he’ll provide infield depth. Senior Kai Bowen started at second base for Ely’s high school squad but he’ll miss the first portion of the season while on a school trip to Germany.Aaron Thom anchors the Ely outfield. Others who will see time there include Weckman, Scott, Tony Carlson and Jeff Kotzian.Phil Brodeen, a junior from Tower-Soudan, could add further depth to the pitching staff and has infield experience, as well.At the plate, Ely will be led by Mathson, who hit nine home runs for BEST this spring and led the Legion team with a .432 average, five home runs and 25 runs batted in last summer.Pope (.393) and Lassi (.364) also had healthy averages, while Thom provides some further pop (three HR, 18 RBI).“The biggest challenge for us will be putting runs on the board against good pitching,” said Coombe. “I think our offense is going to have to improve if we’re going to do well against the very good teams.”The departure of Eveleth, Esko and Cook County from the Division II ranks of the Eighth District has left holes in the schedule that Coombe is trying to fill.The slate includes a tournament at Virginia this weekend and the 17th annual Ely Legion Classic June 25-27.Ely will host Division II foes Nashwauk-Keewatin, Chisholm, Marble and Brookston for the Eighth District playoffs July 30-Aug. 1.GAME SCHEDULE:June 14: at Marble, 7 p.m.June 18: at Virginia TourneyJune 19: at Virginia TourneyJune 20: at Virginia TourneyJune 22: at Chisholm, 7 p.m.June 25: Ely Classic, 8 p.m.June 26: Ely Classic, noonJune 26: Ely Classic, 7:30 p.m.June 27: Ely Classic, 2 p.m.June 30: at Nash.-Kee., 7 p.m.July 8: Marble, 7 p.m.July 11: Ely Midsummer (at Soudan)July 12: Ely MidsummerJuly 12: Ely MidsummerJuly 14: at Brookston, 6 p.m.July 15: Nash.-Kee., 7 p.m.July 19: at Cloquet, 7 p.m.July 20: Chisholm 7 p.m.July 21: Brookston, 7 p.m.July 30-Aug. 1: District Eight Playoffs at ElyAug. 6-8: State Tournament at Northfield

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