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Wolves build off big year

by Tom Coombe

After a difficult early spring with numerous postponements, Ely’s high school baseball team played and played at the end of the 2022 regular season and that may have sparked a stellar postseason run.

The Wolves had nine contests in the final eight days of the regular season and kept right on going when the Section 7A playoffs began.

The run didn’t end until the 7A finals, when top-seeded South Ridge edged Ely 2-1 to capture the title and a state tournament berth.

Several key players return for the Wolves, who won 19 games last spring and hope to build another impressive record starting Thursday, when they visit Kenyon-Wanamingo as part of a season-opening three-game slate down south.

“Expectations are high,” said head coach Frank Ivancich. “We hope to get back to where we were last year, but I think we’ve also got to realize we can’t just show up and play. We are going to have to work a little harder to get to that next level and accomplish what we want.”

Ely returns experience at the plate, in the field and on the mound, including two all-section performers.

Senior Joey Bianco figures to anchor the outfield and provide a spark at the top of the order.  A year ago, the centerfielder hit a team-best .465 with a .576 on-base percentage and 29 runs scored. He ripped 34 hits, swiped 21 bases and wound up with 19 RBI.

Sophomore Caid Chittum also earned all-section acclaim as he solidified the infield defense at shortstop. He had a .910 fielding percentage while hitting .266 with 20 runs scored, 19 RBI and eight sacrifice bunts.

Bianco and Chittum are part of what figures to be a deep Ely team.

Junior Drew Marolt picked up a pitching win last summer during the Junior Legion State Tournament, held in Ely at Veterans Memorial Field, and he’ll be part of a strong pitching staff and also see time behind the plate at catcher.   He hit nearly .400 last summer while hitting in the middle of the order for Ely’s Senior Legion team.

On the mound, Ivancich will also look to a pair of seniors in Logan Loe and Gunnar Hart. Both were strong on the mound during the home stretch of the season, with Loe logging the pitching win as Ely reached the 7A finals with Hart getting the tough-luck loss in the finals against South Ridge.

Senior first baseman Erron Anderson, who has committed to attend Vermilion Community College, compiled a .400 on-base percentage while earning honorable mention all-conference recognition as a junior.

Another junior, Deegan Richards, was one of the Wolves’ leading hitters last spring and is a starting outfielder.

Junior Sam Leeson is also in the mix for outfield time while Ely could get a boost from the bat of senior designated hitter Preston Hines.

For the first time, Ely is combined with neighboring Northeast Range for baseball and former Nighthawks Elliot Levens and Zander Lislegard add to Ely’s depth.

“We’re adding an experienced junior to the mix in Elliot,” said Ivancich.

Ely could also go  young, with freshmen Jack Davies (outfield/pitcher), Hunter Halbakken (infield) and Drew Johnson (infield) all in the mix for playing time. Sophomore Ben Leeson could also have some catching duties.

“We’ve got some good young talent waiting in the wings who are going to put some pressure on for playing time,” said Ivancich, who has guided Ely to 7A titles in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017 and runner-up finishes in 2011, 2019 and 2022. “We want to be in that championship game again and find a way to win.”

A late-arriving spring has limited the Wolves to indoor practices thus far, but Ely should be tested right out of the gate this week with three difficult games to open the season.

Ely heads to southern Minnesota to face Kenyon-Wanamingo, which has been a frequent visitor to town during summer Legion tournaments. The Wolves will be on the artificial turf at Northwestern (Roseville) Friday, for games against Class AA powers Rock Ridge and Proctor.

The docket includes nine home games, with three as part of the annual Veterans Memorial Showcase Tournament May 19-20.

Ivancich is aided by Max Gantt, Jim Wittrup, Aaron Donais and Derek Johnson.

The Wolves join a group of contenders in 7A hoping to challenge perennial powerhouse South Ridge, which was won the last four section championships.

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