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VCC gets hot, upsets Itasca
by Tom Coombe
Making up for lost time, the Vermilion Ironmen played four doubleheaders in six days and picked up their biggest win of the season.
A three-run homer by freshman Jack Nikko gave the community college baseball team some breathing room, and the Ironmen held on and stunned division-leading and nationally-ranked Itasca 7-4 Wednesday at Grand Rapids.
After finally getting a weather-delayed season on track, the Ironmen have won four of their last five contests to improve to 5-14 for the season, heading into today’s home opening doubleheader against Rainy River.
More importantly, the Ironmen are 3-3 in Northern Division play and served notice - with the win against Itasca - that they’ll be a force to reckon with down the home stretch.
“To bounce back and beat one of the two undefeated teams in our conference was a big confidence boost,” said Vermilion Head Coach Ray Podominick. “We’ve won four of the last five and are starting to play some good baseball.”
Not much went the Ironmen’s way in the opener at Grand Rapids’ Legion Field.
After a two-run blast by David Olson gave the Ironmen a 2-0 lead, the Vikings (21-7) scored the next 12 runs and finished the game in five innings.
Vermilion pitchers struggled with control, walking seven batters, and Itasca broke open a 3-2 game with a seven-run barrage in the fourth inning.
Tyler Eickhoff had two hits for the Ironmen while teammate Tyler King was the losing pitcher.
That set the stage for the nightcap, and a run-scoring double by Olson gave the Ironmen an early lead.
Brandon Wieser and Nick Kutryb had run-scoring hits in the fourth and fifth frames as Vermilion went up 4-1, and Nikko’s bomb made it 7-1 in the seventh.
The Ironmen then survived a late scare as Itasca plated three runs in the seventh and loaded the bases in the ninth before reliever Alex Kempf escaped with the save.
Trevor Gomer picked up the pitching win, working seven and two-thirds innings and scattering six hits.
Former Ely Timberwolf Sean Fisher had three hits for the Ironmen, while another Elyite - sophomore Cody Bialik - added two. VCC’s Nikko and Olson also had two hits each.
The Ironmen revved up their offense the day before, scoring seven runs in each of the first two innings on the way to a 19-0 rout of Hibbing.
Vermilion also took the second game of the doubleheader at Nashwauk 9-6.
Eickhoff drove in four runs, while Wieser and Fisher added three runs batted in each to back the pitching of Nikko, who blanked the Cardinals on four hits.
Over the weekend, the Ironmen lost a pair of one-run games in division play to Northland, and suffered a 15-2 spanking at the hands of the University of Winnipeg before coming back to beat Winnipeg 7-5 in Saturday’s finale of a four-game swing at Thief River Falls.
“It started in the Winnipeg game, that was big for us,” said Podominick.
Vermilion trailed Winnipeg 5-1 after five innings, but closed the gap to one on Fisher’s bases-clearing double in the sixth.
The Ironmen gained the lead in the seventh, pulling ahead on Kutryb’s double. Christian Kittelson added a run-scoring hit for insurance and Tyler King retired the side in the seventh to finish with a complete-game six-hitter.
The day before, VCC pitchers issued too many walks in a lopsided defeat to the same Winnipeg team.
Northland pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh to win 3-2 on Good Friday. The Pioneers scored the game-winning run on a bases-loaded ground ball in the bottom of the seventh, answering back after VCC scored twice on a Kittelson single to tie the game,
Kutryb got the loss in relief of Nikko, who gave up eight hits.
Kittelson finished three-for-four at the plate for the Ironmen and Eickhoff had two hits.
Northland won Saturday’s game 3-2 in 10 innings, with the winning run scoring on a wild pitch issued by Gomer.
Kempf started and tossed a gem for the Ironmen, yielding only four hits and striking out nine.