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Wolves move up a class, but pitching staff makes it easier

With eight returning starters and a pair of ace pitchers, Ely’s high school baseball team is well stocked for the rigors of the 2004 season.That’s good for the Timberwolves, who’ll face tougher competition this spring, thanks to realignment that moves Ely out of Class A - Minnesota’s smallest enrollment division - and into the AA division.But a step up in class hasn’t shaken the optimism of the Wolves, who are primed to improve on a 13-10 season a year ago and make a run at the Section 7AA title.With pitchers Josh Weckman and Tim Scott leading the way, Ely opens the season Tuesday at Eveleth-Gilbert.Weckman and Scott combined to win eight games last spring and helped Ely’s American Legion team to a third-place finish in the Division II state tournament during the summer.Their presence on the mound, along with the return of several senior starters, has third-year head coach Frank Ivancich looking forward to the season and the rigors of AA ball.“We look to it as a challenge,” said Ivancich. “I think with the returning starters we have, the move up to AA certainly pleases a few people in Class A. And I’m pretty confident we can compete at the AA level and I think the upgrades in our schedule will help.”Ely added a southern trip to Hinckley and East Central, set for this Saturday, and the Wolves’ 20-game docket is loaded with AA competition including section favorites Hermantown and Virginia.The Wolves are counting on pitching to allow them to compete at a higher level.Scott was the ace of Ely’s staff as a sophomore. The lefthander went 4-4 with a 2.38 earned run average and fanned 75 batters in 50 innings. Weckman picked up four wins in the spring and six more during the Legion season.“That’s definitely our strength,” said Ivancich. “I think we have two very experienced pitchers who have gotten better every year.”Adding depth to the staff is returning senior Kai Bowen and classmate Dustin Schaper, who returned to the program this spring after a one-year absence.Sophomore Nick Furnstahl and Paul Starkovich are also pushing for varsity innings.At the plate, Ely returns five starters who hit at least .300 last year.One is senior outfielder Aaron Thom, who belted four home runs, had 17 runs batted in and four doubles on his way to a .359 average.Weckman (.329, four HR, 21 RBI), senior shortstop Kevin Pope (.339), senior first baseman Cory Lassi (.338, 17 RBI) and catcher David Urbas (.333) are all potent with the bat. Senior outfielder Jeff Kotzian had a .313 average.The Wolves will also look to Bowen at second base and senior Tony Carlson in the outfield.Others in the mix for playing time are senior Drew Hanson, junior Kevin Hartshorn and freshman Colin Moberly.The program has plenty of depth, with more than 50 players out for baseball in grades 7-12.Assisting Ivancich are Rodney Skube, Jamie Steinberg, Paul Starkovich and junior high coach Clarence Jordan.2004 Ely High School Baseball ScheduleApr. 13: at Eveleth-Gilb.Apr. 17: at Hinckley, noonApr. 17: at East Central, 4 p.m.Apr. 19: GreenwayApr. 20: ProctorApr. 26: Two HarborsApr. 29: at Mt. Iron-BuhlMay 4: BESTMay 7: at Silver BayMay 8: at Hermantown, noonMay 10: at ChisholmMay 14: at VirginiaMay 15: Dul. Marshall, 7 p.m.May 18: at Mesabi EastMay 21 Cherry, 4 p.m.May 21: Deer River, 8 p.m.May 24: at Int. FallsMay 26: CookMay 27: at Nash.-Kee., 6:30 p.m.Games at 4:30 unless noted

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