VFW wins twice at districts
If one word was needed to describe the 2004 Ely VFW baseball season, the selection would be rather obvious: improvement.After a four-win campaign and a two-and-out performance in postseason play last summer, Ely turned things around this year by finishing over the .500 mark, earning second-place in the Border Area playoffs and going 2-2 in the 10-team Eighth District playoffs.Grand Rapids ended Post 2717’s season with a 3-1 district victory at Nashwauk July 30, but not before Ely picked up wins over Babbitt-Embarrass-Soudan-Tower and Duluth Central.Ely, which also lost to Grand Rapids in the opening round, finished 19-17 overall and was a break or two away from reaching the final four of the district.“We had a good season,” said Ely Head Coach Jim Wittrup. “Everyone on our team got better and improved from last year. We had a good district tournament, but we just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it against Rapids.”Hibbing advanced to the state tournament out of the Eighth District, but Ely was one of just three teams to beat them this year.Grand Rapids 11, Ely 6Ely led 4-3 after three innings, but Grand Rapids pulled back ahead in the fourth and iced it with five runs in the final two frames.Grand Rapids banged out 12 hits against losing pitcher Nick Furnstahl, six in the final two innings.The bottom of the order carried the Ely offense and Jay Olson and Jake Ojala finished with two hits apiece and Matt High added three.But despite threatening in nearly every inning, Ely couldn’t manage enough offense to knock off Grand Rapids, stranding 11 runners in the contest.Run-scoring hits by High and Eric Urbas allowed Ely to come back from a 3-1 gap to pull ahead 4-3.In the fourth, Grand Rapids countered with two runs on just one hit. After a single tally in the fifth, the winners scored three times - aided by two costly Ely errors - in the sixth. Four hits led to two more runs in the seventh.Ely 7, BEST 6A run in the top of the seventh inning allowed Ely to break a six-all deadlock and top its local rival.Urbas doubled with two outs and scored on a Furnstahl single to put Ely on top.In the bottom of the seventh, winning pitcher Jordan Richards shut down the BEST bats to preserve the victory.Richards worked four scoreless innings in relief of Paul Starkovich, giving up three hits.Ely jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first, cracking seven hits against Tyler Blomberg.BEST came right back with a six-run third inning.Ely had 15 hits in the game, with Urbas, Furnstahl, Richards Starkovich, Horvat and Olson all getting two apiece.Derek Siebert, Wyatt Turnbull and Seth Bjornrud all had two hits for BEST.Ely 5, Duluth Central 2Furnstahl pitched for the second time in as many days and shut down the Duluth squad in a July 31 matchup at Nashwauk.The junior-to-be tossed a three-hitter, struck out five and walked just one while picking up his third playoff victory.He also helped himself at the plate, getting two hits and scoring twice.Hits by Furnstahl, Richards and Horvat helped Ely break open a one-run contest in the fifth and take a 4-1 lead.Horvat had two hits and two runs batted in for the winners, and Richards and Urbas added two hits.Grand Rapids 3, Ely 1Ely outhit Grand Rapids 6-2, but three runs in the first two innings by Grand Rapids held up.Two errors led to a 1-0 Grand Rapids lead in the first, but Ely tied it when High singled in Horvat in the second.In the bottom of the second, Grand Rapids added two more runs, on its only hits of the contest.Ely put runners from the fourth through the seventh innings, but never scored.Horvat had two of Ely’s six hits.