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Legion lives up to top billing

The weight has been lifted. The pressure is off.One could almost hear the collective sigh of relief at Veterans Memorial Field after Ely wrapped up the Eighth District Division II American Legion Baseball championship with a 10-5, Aug. 1 title-game victory over rival Nashwauk-Keewatin.With the best record in northeastern Minnesota, the number-one seed and a lineup featuring home run king Josh Mathson, Ely was heavily favored to defend its district championship and win its sixth state berth in eight seasons.But Ely was wary of an upset and a scrappy N-K team gave the hosts a few tense moments, both during a winners bracket game won 5-1 by Ely and in the championship round.When Tim Scott fanned N-K’s Brett Martinson to record the final out, Ely not only improved to 26-1 but lived up to the high expectations.Ely moved on to the state Division II tournament at Dundas, where it met Jackson late Friday in a first-round contest.“Even though we had a great season, it probably would have ended on a sour note had we lost in the district,” said Ely Head Coach Tom Coombe. “Anything short of the state tournament would have been a disappointment, so I think we faced a little pressure.”Scott eased some of the pressure July 31, when he was dominant on the mound in the first of two tournament meetings with Nashwauk-Keewatin.The lefty tossed a three-hitter, fanned 10 batters and had a shutout until the seventh inning.And in the finals, Ely revved up its offense, getting a two-run homer from Mathson and three-hit days by Aaron Thom, Ben Barnes and Joel Dostert.By the time Scott relieved Mathson in the seventh, Post 248 had a five-run cushion and the countdown to another district championship was well on its way.“I’m happy for this group because they deserve to play in a state tournament,” said Coombe. “To put up that sort of record says something about them. They never took a day off and showed up to play every time out.”Ely 8, Chisholm 4Post 248 opened the tournament under the lights and used a five-run third inning to derail Chisholm.Cory Lassi’s two-run double ignited the rally and run-scoring hits by Joel Dostert and Kevin Pope followed as Ely built a 6-0 lead.It was 7-1 after four frames, but Chisholm pieced together a three-run fifth, with the help of two Ely errors and two infield hits. But winning pitcher Josh Weckman, who picked up his seventh victory of the summer, settled down from there and shut down the Chisholm offense.A double play ended the game in the seventh and Weckman finished with a nine-hitter and seven strikeouts.At the plate, Scott and Barnes finished with two hits. Mathson was two-for-two and was hit by a pitch twice.Joe Harper took the loss for Chisholm and teammates Matt McLaughlin and Justin Simon chipped in with two hits apiece.Ely 5, Nashwauk-Keewatin 1Scott had one of his best outings of the summer at an opportune time.In command throughout, Scott had a shutout and a two-hitter, with both hits by N-K’s Mike Patras, through six innings.Throwing a hard fastball with good movement and mixing in an effective curve, Scott contained the usually potent N-K offense.Ely, meanwhile, scratched out a run in the second and two more in the third.Lassi singled, went to third on a Dostert double and scored on a Weckman sacrifice fly to put Ely on the board.Bunt hits by David Urbas and Kevin Pope started the third inning. Urbas scored on a groundout by Mathson while Thom lifted a sacrifice fly to drive in Pope.Thom, Lassi, Dostert and Weckman had consecutive hits in a two-run sixth.N-K threatened in the third, but two runners were thrown out on the bases. That was it for the visitors until the seventh, when John Kalmi walked and scored on a Reid Velo single.Losing pitcher Josh DiIorio gave up 10 hits, two to Scott, Lassi and Dostert.Ely 10, Nashwauk-Keewatin 5Held without a home run in Ely’s first two games, Mathson blasted a two-run shot in the first inning to start the hosts off on the right foot.Mathson’s 16th round-tripper of the season and 31st of his Legion career was an opposite field shot and gave Ely a 2-1 lead.Dostert and Barnes had run-scoring hits in the third to make it 4-1, but N-K came right back in the top of the fourth to make it a one-run game.Ely got some cushion back in the bottom of the fourth, as Thom’s two-run double brought home both Scott and Mathson, who was intentionally walked. Dostert cracked another run-scoring hit to make it 7-3.N-K sliced the lead to 7-5 in the sixth, but a tiring Mathson escaped further trouble.Walks to Mathson and Lassi helped Ely put the game away in the sixth.Dostert and Barnes both cracked their third hits of the game, driving in runs. Another run scored on a throwing error.That was more than enough for Scott, who fanned two in the final inning.

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