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Junior Legion takes second

SUBSTATE RUNNER-UP - Ely’s Junior Legion team placed second in the substate tournament and finished 16-4 this summer. Pictured are (front, l-r) Deegan Richards, Evan Leeson, Jack Davies, Owen Marolt, Ben Leeson and (back, l-r) assistant coach Aaron Donais, assistant coach Derek Johnson, Hunter Halbakken, Talen Jarshaw, Drew Johnson, Brecken Sandberg, Caid Chittum, Jayden Zemke, Blake Schaller, Louie Panichi and head coach Jim Wittrup.

Esko dominates, ends Ely’s winning streak and moves on to state

by Tom Coombe

It was early-June when Esko swept through the high school baseball playoffs, reached the state tournament and dominated there en route to the program’s first-ever state title.

Circumstances were similar last weekend in Ely where Esko, featuring several players who were contributors to the state championship team, rolled through the Junior Legion Division II Northeast Substate Tournament.

Twice in successive days, Esko blasted Ely.

Sunday’s 11-1, six-inning victory gave Esko its second straight substate title and a berth in this weekend’s state tournament at Granite Falls.

Ely, which took a 15-game winning streak into Saturday’s winners’ bracket clash with Esko, crashed before a big Blueberry weekend audience at Veterans Memorial Field.

Ely, which finished 16-4 this summer, struggled mightily on the mound, with its pitchers combining to issue 17 free passes in the game.

That included 14 walks and three hit batters, and Esko broke a one-all deadlock in the top of the third, turning four walks into a 4-1 lead.

The advantage was 6-1 until the seventh, when Esko scored eight times and again was aided by numerous walks.

Ben Leeson scored Ely’s only run while both Caid Chittum and Drew Johnson contributed two hits against winning pitcher Jackson Peterson.

Ely’s Louie Panichi was tagged with the pitching loss while Chittum, Talen Jarshaw and Johnson all worked in relief.

The loss put Ely into the elimination round and the hosts responded with a 10-3 win over Barnum-Moose Lake-Willow River.

Senior-to-be Brecken Sandberg had one of his best outings of the summer on the mound, going the distance on a complete-game five-hitter, with only two walks. He struck out three.

Just one of the runs that Sandberg gave up was earned, and Ely struck with two runs in the third and three in the fourth to take control of the game.

Deegan Richards had a key two-run double while first baseman Blake Schaller had a huge day at the plate, collecting two hits and knocking in three runs.

Chittum ripped three hits and scored twice while Johnson reached base five times, getting two hits and drawing three walks and scoring three runs.

At the top of the order, leadoff man Jack Davies had two hits, two runs batted in and two runs scored.

The momentum didn’t carry over to Sunday, and Ely left five runners on in the first two innings, and wasted a bases-loaded, no-out chance in the top of the sixth.

Esko, meanwhile, capitalized on Ely’s mistakes and turned a botched double-play ball into several runs, putting the game out of reach.

Esko pitcher Connor Pearce held Ely at bay, and Samuel Panger came on in relief to finish up.

Hunter Halbakken took the pitching loss for Ely, giving up four hits and walking three in four innings.  Jarshaw came on in relief.

Richards doubled and scored Ely’s only run while Leeson, Schaller and Halbakken also had hits.

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