Legion wins Virginia tournament, off to 5-0 start
Ely’s American Legion baseball team couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the 2004 season.Three strong pitching performances, combined with excellent defense and some timely hitting gave Post 248 three wins and a first-place finish at Virginia’s Land of the Loon Invitational.After an easy 16-0 drubbing of Proctor in the opening round, Ely knocked off tournament host Virginia and Eighth District Division I favorite Grand Rapids in successive games, claiming the championship trophy in Virginia for the second time in four years.Ely downed Virginia 8-5 in a June 19 semifinal contest, and the championship game included a comeback from a 5-2 deficit and a 6-5 win over Grand Rapids.Ely, which is gunning for its second straight district Division II crown, knocked off three Division I teams on the way to the title, including Virginia and Grand Rapids teams that are likely to lead the pack in Division I.“In our last two games, we beat two high-quality opponents,” said Ely Head Coach Tom Coombe. “Those are both teams that could advance to the state Division I tournament. To beat those two teams on back-to-back days was quite an accomplishment.”It was an accomplishment due largely to Ely’s pitching and defense.Josh Weckman held Virginia in check for five innings, aided along the way by defensive gems including a diving catch by Aaron Thom, two out-producing relays from the outfield and a double play.The next day, Tim Scott settled down after some early troubles and kept Ely close until the bats came alive.“We did a lot of the little things that win baseball games,” said Coombe. “We turned double plays, made both routine and difficult defensive plays and our pitchers threw strikes. On offense, we didn’t hit much but we got some big hits when we needed them.”Ely 6, Grand Rapids 5Grand Rapids scored five runs in the first three innings, but that was all it would get against Scott.The Ely lefty settled down, scattering nine hits in the game and stranding five Grand Rapids runners in the final four frames.Grand Rapids pitcher J.J. Swolboski gave up two runs in the first but seemed in command through five innings, as his team led 5-2.That all changed in the sixth.Josh Mathson, who was three-for-three with three runs scored, doubled to start the rally. Cory Lassi reached base on an error, and Josh Weckman delivered a run-scoring double to make it 5-3.With two outs, Ely then came up with two clutch hits to tie the game.Pinch-hitter David Urbas singled to right to cut the gap to one, and Tony Carlson’s single to left tied it up.Ely won it in the bottom of the seventh when Scott - hitting for the first time in the game - delivered a bases-loaded, two-out single.Earlier, Kevin Pope reached second when his leadoff bunt was misplayed. Mathson was walked intentionally and Cory Lassi’s bunt single gave Ely the bases loaded and no outs.Swolboski retired the next two batters, but Scott came through to give Ely - and himself - a win.Scott scattered nine hits and struck out five.At the plate, Mathson had three hits and Lassi finished with two.Ely 8, Virginia 5Lassi’s first Legion home run helped spark Ely to the win. It came in the first and was a two-run shot off losing pitcher Cole Carlblom.Mathson, Ben Barnes and Joel Dostert had run-scoring hits as Ely jumped out to an 8-2 advantage.Virginia, which features many of the players from the Virginia high school team that finished second in Section 7AA, as well as top talent from both Eveleth-Gilbert and Mt. Iron-Buhl, was stymied by Ely’s defense.Weckman induced a double-play ball in the second and picked a runner off first the inning before.Thom’s diving catch ended a threat in the third, and his throw to Barnes at third base wiped out a Virginia rally in the fifth.Virginia got to Weckman in the sixth, scoring three times and threatening for more. Again, Ely’s defense was the difference, as a Scott-to-Mathson-to-Urbas relay retired a Virginia runner at the plate.“Our defense won the game,” said Coombe. “We came up with some big plays, some outstanding throws from the outfield. That turned the tide.”Scott came on in the seventh and retired the side for the save.Mathson and Lassi finished with two hits each for Ely.Ely 16, Proctor 0A nine-run second-inning flurry gave Ely all the runs it would need in the June 18 first round game.Mathson struck out 10 and gave up one hit in five innings, and he also helped himself at the plate with a three-run homer.Josh Bullivant added a two-run shot, while both Barnes and Urbas finished with two hits each.