Wolves look to regroup; State-ranked foes, injury do a number on Ely baseball team

by Tom Coombe -

Ely’s high school baseball team lost twice to high-powered opposition last weekend, but a third loss may have been the most devastating.
Hinckley-Finlayson and Legacy Christian Academy, both state-ranked this year and state tournament teams a year ago, blanked the Timberwolves on successive days April 21-22.
The Timberwolves’ trip south may also have been a season-changer, with junior pitcher Dylan Kienitz suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Hinckley-Finlayson game.
Kienitz, who picked up a pitching win in the season-opener and was effective on the mound in another outing, was expected to help anchor the pitching staff as the Wolves looked to defend their Section 7A title.
Instead, there’s a void both on the mound and in the middle of the lineup, and an already-young Ely team got even younger.
“We feel terrible for Dylan,” said Ely Head Coach Frank Ivancich. “He was on his way to having a great year for us and then he has to deal with this. The good thing is he should make a full recovery. We’ve got a big hole to fill now and we’re going to have to look to some other people to step up.”
Outfielder Mark Killoran is the Wolves’ only senior, and junior Gage Merhar and sophomore Tyler Housey are the only other returning starters from 2016.
At times over the weekend, the Wolves had as many as five sophomores, freshmen and eighth-graders in the lineup.
“We have some talented young players who have played quite a bit of baseball, but not at the varsity level,” said Ivancich. “We’re going to make mistakes, but I think we can only get better as these guys gain varsity experience.”
Hinckley-Finlayson pitcher T.J. Johnson was a one-man wrecking crew in the April 21 game at Hinckley’s picturesque Brennan Field.
The senior flamethrower allowed just one hit - a first-inning single by Merhar - and struck out 12 in an 8-0 Jaguar victory.
Johnson also did plenty of damage at the plate, going four-for-four with three doubles and four runs batted in.
The Jaguars took a 1-0 lead on Johnson’s first-inning double and that was all the scoring the righthander would need.
He made quick work of the Ely lineup, reaching double digits in strikeouts and showing good control.
Hinckley-Finlayson added to its lead, building it to 5-0 after four innings and scoring three times off of reliever Dalton Schreffler in the sixth.
Merhar started and worked the first four frames, allowing five hits but walking six.
The following day, a senior-laden Legacy Christian Academy team lived up to its high-billing in a 10-0, six-inning rout of the Wolves at Andover.
Another hard-throwing righthander, Josh Peterson, kept Ely at bay and fired a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts.
Killoran and Thomas Montana had Ely’s only hits.
The Lions scored three times off starter Carter Gaulke in the bottom of the first, and the hosts never looked back.
Gaulke tossed three innings and sophomore Trevor Mattson followed up for the Wolves.
• After Mother Nature wreaked havoc with the Wolves’ recent schedule, they ‘ll look for sunny skies and warmer conditions this week.
Ely hosts both Littlefork-Big Falls (1:30 p.m.) and South Ridge (4:30 p.m.) in a Monday doubleheader at Veterans Memorial Field.
• The Wolves rallied Tuesday to beat Northwoods 5-1.
A five-run seventh-inning was the difference, as Ely capitalized on several walks issued by Grizzlies’ pitchers.
Killoran also delivered a key blow, a two-run single. to highlight the frame.
Merhar and Montana also had hits as the Wolves struggled against Northwoods lefty Tate Olson, who had 10 strikeouts before leaving the game in the seventh.
Mattson tossed a gem for the Wolves. Ely’s sophomore southpaw blanked Northwoods through five innings.
Bryce Longwell came on in the sixth, and Merhar shut down the Grizzlies in the seventh to close things out.