Legion playoffs start here Friday
With 23 wins in 24 games, it’s been nothing short of a dream season for Ely’s American Legion baseball team.But four Eighth District rivals are itching to turn that dream into a nightmare.This weekend, they’ll get their chance when Ely hosts the Eighth District Division II Tournament at Veterans Memorial Field.Ely has the top seed and is heavily favored to defend its district championship and return to the state tournament for the sixth time in eight years.And with the best record in northeastern Minnesota, a daunting lineup headed by home run king Josh Mathson, steady defense and an imposing pitching staff, the stars all seem to be aligned in Ely’s favor.Post 248, which opens tournament play at 7:30 p.m. Friday, is nevertheless taking a cautious approach into the postseason.“There are no guarantees,” said Ely Head Coach Tom Coombe. “Top seeds can and do get beat and we have to guard against being overconfident. There’s some good competition in this tournament.”If past history is any indication, Nashwauk-Keewatin looms as the biggest obstacle to Ely’s state tournament hopes.The teams have met in the district finals six times in the last seven years, and Nashwauk-Keewatin eliminated Ely in a state semifinal game here last summer.This year, Nashwauk-Keewatin qualified for the state tournament in high school baseball and has gone 6-2 in a limited Legion schedule.Both of those losses have come to Ely, including a 11-5 decision last Wednesday.Ely remains wary of its longtime rival.“To get to the state tournament, we’ll probably have to beat Nashwauk-Keewatin and that’s never easy,” said Coombe. “They haven’t played much this summer but they have a lot of talent and they’re always ready to play come tournament time.”Chisholm (8-8) could be a darkhorse in the tournament. It owns a win over Division I contender Cloquet during the regular season and lost two extra-inning games to Nashwauk-Keewatin.Harboring longshot upset hopes are Marble and fifth-seed Brookston.The tournament (see schedule) kicks off with four games Friday and continues through the weekend, with the title game set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday.The district champion moves on to the state tournament, set for Aug. 6-8 at Northfield.Post 248 finished a hectic six-game in five-day stretch with Thursday’s win over Chisholm.During that stretch, Ely suffered its first loss of the year when West Duluth took the first game of a July 18 doubleheader.West Duluth 8-1, Ely 5-7Everything that went right for Ely during its 18-game winning streak went wrong during the contest at Soudan.The Cubs smacked 13 hits against losing pitcher Josh Weckman, and four Ely errors helped lead to four unearned runs.At the plate, Ely was stymied by winning pitcher Steve Halvorson and stung by baserunning and bunting snafus.It all added up a win for West Duluth, which broke a 4-4 tie in the fourth inning and got three hits from Josh Valentine and a solo homer by Matt Lien.Cory Lassi and Aaron Thom paced the Ely offense with two hits each.In the nightcap, Mathson dominated on the mound, scattering seven hits, striking out seven and yielding an unearned run.Hits by Thom and Lassi sparked a three-run first and Ely iced it in the fourth with four runs, two on a single by Joel Dostert.Ely 3, Cloquet 1Tim Scott tossed a gem Monday in Cloquet.The lefty raised his record to 6-0 by tossing a two-hitter against a very strong Cloquet team. He finished with eight strikeouts.Mathson’s towering first inning homer put Ely on top 1-0, and Kevin Pope slapped a bases-loaded single in the second to make it 3-0.That’s all Ely could muster against Cloquet pitchers Nick Lee and Eric Hagen, who combined on a four-hitter.Scott worked his way out of bases loaded jams in both the second and fourth inning, and got a boost when rightfielder Tony Carlson gunned down a runner attempting to score from third.Cloquet managed to scrape out one run in the fourth, but that was it.Ely 13, Brookston 3Post 248 sent 12 batters to the plate in the first inning, scoring eight times and putting the game in cruise control.Mathson’s two-run triple got Ely started, and Lassi, Carlson, Kai Bowen and Ben Barnes had hits in the frame.Lassi wound up with two hits and three runs batted in, while both Barnes and Bowen added two hits.That was more than enough to back winning pitcher Phil Brodeen, who gave up six hits and pitched all five innings.Ely 11, Nashwauk-Keewatin 5The second half of Wednesday’s split doubleheader included a longball display from the home team.Mathson had solo homers in both the first and third innings, raising his season-record tally to 14 for the summer, and Weckman’s three-run blast down the leftfield line gave Ely a 7-1 advantage after three innings.But N-K fought back, scoring four times in the fourth and getting the tying runner on base. Weckman worked out of the jam and held N-K scoreless the rest of the way, going the distance and allowing 11 hits with six strikeouts.Mathson finished three-for-three with a double and two homers, and Weckman helped his cause with five runs batted in.Scott added two hits.Joe Martire had a solo home run for N-K and teammate Josh DiIorio was tagged with the loss.