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Legion wins 35th DQ Classic

Ely’s American Legion baseball team warmed up with a big inning and never cooled down last weekend.

The result was a perfect  4-0 record and a championship performance in the 35th Annual DQ Grill and Chill Classic.

Pitcher Brecken Sandberg held Aurora to two hits and Ely scored in all but one  inning of an 11-3 victory Sunday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Field.

The win gave Ely its first outright DQ title since 2019, and the 12th in program history.

It also may have been the most unexpected first place finish, given an Ely roster that includes 11 Junior Legion-age eligible players among the 15-member roster.

“Sometimes the most satisfying wins are the ones you don’t expect,” said head coach Tom Coombe. “In a way the roster is just coming together and this group really gelled and gained a lot of confidence as the weekend went on.  I don’t know of anybody who thought we might sweep the whole thing.”

Strong pitching was a prime factor in the first-place finish, with Sandberg dominant at times against Aurora and Drew Marolt firing his second consecutive shutout in Saturday night’s 8-0 win over Thunder Bay.

Earlier, Louie Panichi went the distance in an opening round, 7-2 decision against Minnetonka while Hunter Halbakken and Caid Chittum worked through trouble as Ely downed Kenyon 9-6.

Clutch hitting was also a factor, with senior Ben Kruse going eight-for-11 with nine runs scored to earn tournament MVP honors.

Chittum and Panichi both collected six hits for the weekend while Anderson returned to the lineup after a hamstring injury to go six-for-12 with six RBI.

Ely revved up midway through its opening game, with an uprising that set the stage for the rest of the weekend.

Trailing 2-1,  Ely erupted for six runs in the bottom of the fourth - all with two outs - to storm past Minnetonka.

The bottom of Ely’s order set things up, with Blake Schaller’s ground ball evading the glove of the opposing shortstop - allowing Drew Marolt and pinch-runner Owen Marolt to score the tying and go-ahead runs.

Sandberg followed by drawing a walk, with Panichi driving a single to left to make it 5-2.

Kruse then added a double to the gap to pad the lead, and Panichi took it from there.

The lefty went the distance, scattering six hits, recording four strikeouts and getting the help of two double plays turned by the infield defense.

The following afternoon, Chittum was three-for-three with two RBI,  Deegan Richards collected three hits and Kruse scored three times with two hits as Ely scored in all but one inning against Kenyon.

Anderson had three RBI, including a two-run single in the fourth, and Richards’ sixth-inning triple added a key insurance run.

Ely needed the cushion, as the visitors stranded 11 runners, six in the last two frames.

Halbakken went five-plus innings and allowed seven hits to earn his first career Legion pitching victory, and Chittum recorded a two-inning save with four strikeouts.

“The Kenyon game wasn’t pretty but I think we grew a little bit in those seven innings,” said Coombe. “We had to get out of some jams and fight through some adversity.  The guys could have folded up but they didn’t and that’s part of becoming a good baseball team.”

Under the lights on Saturday, Kruse, Anderson and Elliot Levens all drove in runs as part of a three-run first.

That was all the support Marolt would need.

For the second consecutive outing, the hard-throwing righthander kept the opposition off the scoreboard. He only had three strikeouts, but the Ely defense was flawless.

Kruse finished two-for-three with three runs scored, Anderson singled and drove in a run, Panichi scored two runs and Levens had a hit and two RBI.

Ely kept on rolling Sunday, scoring three runs in the third, three in the fourth and four in the fifth against Aurora.

Levens was three-for-three with two RBI, Kruse reached base all four times and scored three runs with two hits for the winners.

Marolt broke out of a mini-slump with a run-scoring hit in the fourth and a two-run, fifth-inning single that ended the contest via the tournament’s eight-run rule.

Panichi was three-for-four with two runs scored while Anderson and Chittum collected two hits each.

That was more than enough for Sandberg, who worked out of some early trouble and cooled an Aurora team that had won six straight contests.

Sandberg recorded eight strikeouts and none of the visitors’ runs were earned.

“It was a huge, huge outing by Brecken,” said Coombe. “He’s got the ability to be a very good pitcher at this level and he showed that against a very good Aurora team.”

• Ely ran its record to 6-1 on Tuesday night, winning its fifth consecutive game and downing Proctor 6-3 at Veterans Memorial Field.

Chittum went four-for-four with two runs batted in, including a run-scoring hit that added insurance in the bottom of the sixth.

Panichi, Marolt and Richards all added two hits, and Kruse ripped a run-scoring double and scored twice.

Pitchers Levens and Jack Davies combined to hold Proctor to four hits, with Levens working the first three-and-two-thirds innings and Davies coming on for three-and-a-third.

Together, they fanned eight Proctor batters.

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