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VFW hoping to plug holes on defense

With just two weeks left in the regular season and tournament play fast approaching, Ely’s VFW baseball team is looking to shore up its defense.Ely is over the .500 mark at 11-10 heading into today’s Border Area doubleheader with Virginia (11 a.m., Veterans Memorial Field), but defensive woes have cost the team several other games and may be the only thing that’s holding it back from becoming a force in the Eighth District.Defensive improvement is the focus for Post 2717 as it gears up for the stretch run.“It seems like one bad inning in each game is killing us,” said Ely Head Coach Jim Wittrup. “Our pitchers have low ERAs but we seem to make five errors a game with four run inning. We just have to overcome that one lapse we have each game.”After three losses in four games in the Fourth of July weekend tournament at Veterans Memorial Field, Ely bounced back Tuesday with an 11-6, 7-4 sweep of visiting Eveleth.In the opener, Paul Starkovich fanned eight in four and two-thirds innings of work, with Jordan Richards coming on in relief to finish up.Richards and Nick Furnstahl led the way at the plate. Both went three-for-three, and Furnstahl scored four runs while Richards drove in four.Jake Ojala had a run-scoring triple in a four-run second inning, and he finished two-for-two. Tyler Willis added two hits.Horvat scattered seven hits and got the victory in the nightcap.Furnstahl continued to swing the hot bat, going two-for-two and scoring twice. Over the weekend, Ely had its ups and downs in its home tournament.Nashwauk-Keewatin escaped with a 3-1 win in the July 2 opener, as pitcher J.J. Wright fired a four-hitter with eight strikeouts.Horvat had two of Ely’s four hits, and the hosts’ only run came in the seventh, when Jay Olson walked and scored on a Willis single. Willis also had two hits.Starkovich took the hard-luck loss, giving up three hits and striking out six. Only one of Nashwauk-Keewatin’s runs were earned.Hermantown banged out 15 hits and pulled away for an 18-4 victory in Ely’s second July tournament matchup.Richards took the loss and Willis worked in relief.Ely was paced offensively by Richards, who was three-for-three, and Furnstahl, who chipped in with two hits.The lone Ely victory in the tournament came July 3 against North Shore, as Furnstahl pitched a three-hitter against the combined Two Harbors/Silver Bay club and Post 2717 prevailed 6-2. Furnstahl struck out eight batters and walked just two.Richards was two-for-two at the plate with two RBI. Hits by Horvat, Furnstahl and Richards ignited a three-run first. Willis added two hits and knocked in a run.Errors cost Ely dearly against Duluth East in the tournament finale.East won 9-7, but only one run was earned against pitchers Starkovich and Furnstahl. Ely outhit East 12-11, with Starkovich clubbing three hits and Richards and Furnstahl adding two apiece.• After Monday’s doubleheader, Ely is at Hibbing Tuesday and hosts Chisholm (6 p.m.) Wednesday.• The Border Area playoffs begin July 23 in Ely with five teams and a double-elimination format.• Ely’s depth took a hit with the loss of 14-year-old catcher Andrew Olson, who broke a bone in his right pinky finger in the loss to Duluth East. He is expected to miss the rest of the season.

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