Top teams come to Ely
11 teams will be involved in annual Midsummer Legion Classic
First come the fireworks, then comes the firepower.
Just days after Ely’s Fourth of July celebration and its fireworks display, the attention will turn to Veterans Memorial Field and an American Legion baseball tournament that boasts its own sort of pyrotechnics.
Loaded with 11 teams, including several of state tournament caliber, the 22nd Sir G’s Midsummer Classic starts Friday, runs through Sunday, July 9 and promises a full weekend of top-flight baseball at Ely’s historic ballpark.
Defending champion Viroqua (Wisc.), a perennial powerhouse in Badger State baseball, is back to defend its title and figures to face a stern challenge from Roseau, which will host this year’s Minnesota Division II State Tournament and had respective state runner-up seasons in Legion and high school ball in 2021 and 2022.
First-time entrant St. Louis Park will add to a deep talent pool, while both Hermantown and Rock Ridge are back in the tournament after deep playoff runs during their high school seasons.
Throw in a host Ely team that is off to a surprising 7-2 start, and the event could be as deep as it’s been in recent years.
“I know I say this every year, but I think it bears repeating that from top to bottom, you’re not going to find a better American Legion tournament than this one in northern Minnesota,“ said Ely Head Coach Tom Coombe. “There’s a great mix of talent from across the state. Whoever wins this thing will beat some very, very good teams.”
Located near La Crosse, Viroqua has racked up numerous Wisconsin state tournament appearances and generally plays one of the most ambitious schedules in the region.
Coach Swanson, who has amassed over 1,000 wins, is expected to bring another talented team to Ely on the heels of a 2022 appearance, which included a pair of extra-innings wins and a 5-1 decision against Roseau.
Led by former Elyite Josh Weckman, the Roseau team has been a frequent visitor to Ely for summer tournaments and has racked up a slew of wins. One of Roseau’s top players is Aaron Wensloff, who is bound for NCAA Division II Minnesota-Crookston.
Hermantown has several college-bound players as well and has much of a Hawk high school team that was the runner-up to Grand Rapids in Section 7AAA.
Meanwhile, St. Louis Park heads north and should be right in the mix for the Sir G’s title.
Another first-time entrant comes from the Twin Cities area. Tri City Maroon features players from Class AAAA Irondale.
Ely, with six wins in its first eight contests, will be tested immediately by Tri City Maroon in its Friday night opener.
“It will be a great test for us right out of the chute,” said Coombe. “That’s one of the nice things about this tournament is we see some new teams and go up against some larger schools. It can only help us come playoff time.”
Ely is the smallest program in the field, with the rest of the entries coming from Class AA, AAA or AAAA high school teams.
Cloquet will be Ely’s opponent in the Saturday night matchup and coach Tyler Olin has rebuilt that program, with the Lumberjacks reaching the final three in Section 7AAA this spring.
Proctor is a tournament mainstay and includes a strong nucleus of talent while Rock Ridge joins the Midsummer field this year - combining Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert talent under the umbrella of their new collaborative program.
Another small-school program in the field is International Falls, which had an impressive postseason run last year, while Moose Lake-Barnum joins the field for the first time.
The action starts at 10:15 a.m. Friday (see schedule) and the lineup includes 11 games over the first two days in Ely, with four more on Sunday, July 9. Another six contests are set for Legion Field in Soudan with Rock Ridge hosting one game on Friday.
While the event calls for all teams to play four predetermined opponents, the final day schedule could be altered to allow for two unbeaten teams to meet in a true championship game.