Wolves upset Deer River, return to state

9-4 loss to Legacy Christian in MN state Class A baseball Thursday. Ely plays in the consolation bracket at 12:30 p.m. on Friday

by Tom Coombe -

For the Ely Timberwolves, an improbable season will reach its climax at an improbable destination: the Class A State High School Baseball Tournament.
The youngest baseball team in school history gave the program its second straight Section 7A title - upsetting top-seeded and state-ranked Deer River twice Thursday night at Duluth’s Wade Stadium,
Junior Gage Merhar returned to the mound with a dominant performance and teamed with senior Mark Killoran to drive in eight runs as the Wolves won the opening game 12-7, setting up a deciding game for the title that mirrored the first.
Again, Ely jumped to a big lead and held on at the end, with sophomore Tyler Housey recording the save in his first-ever varsity pitching performance, relieving freshman Dalton Schreffler in a 9-6 Wolves win.
Housey coaxed Deer River’s Jeffrey Moore to fly out with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, sending the Wolves on to the state tournament, which starts Thursday, June 15 at Jordan.
Ely, which will compete in the state tournament for the fourth time in six years, completed a dramatic run through the elimination round - winning five straight playoff games since a June 1 loss to South Ridge and improving to 20-8 on the season.
The Wolves saved their biggest victories for last, downing a Deer River team that was 22-2, ranked among the state’s top-10 Class A teams all spring and loaded with 12 seniors. In contrast, Killoran was Ely’s only senior and the lineup was peppered with sophomores, freshmen and eighth-grader Joey Pierce.
Ely also battled injuries throughout the year, losing pitching ace Dylan Kienitz to a knee injury in mid-April and missing the pitching services of Merhar nearly the entire year.
In the finals, Merhar made his first start since April 21 and showed little rust - holding a Deer River team that averaged over 10 runs per contest to just two in five innings.
Killoran had a pair of two-run singles in the opener, while Merhar’s bases-clearing double capped a five-run third and put Ely on top 7-2. Luke Olson scored three runs and Schreffler added two hits in the first game.
Deer River rallied late, but the Wolves had plenty of cushion and reliever Cody Davis worked out of trouble in the seventh to force the winner-take-all nightcap.
The second game started like the first, with Merhar lining a single to put the Wolves on the board and Ely scoring twice in the first inning and once in the second.
For Deer River,the backbreaker came in the bottom of the third, when the Wolves chased starter Chad Benham, scored six times and took a 9-1 advantage.
Schreffler, who lasted only one and two-thirds innings in Ely’s first playoff game, settled in and worked past some control problems to keep the Wolves in control. The red-head tired in the fifth, and the Wolves seemed to have few pitching options with Merhar, Carter Gaulke and Trevor Mattson all unavailable because of the new pitch count rules in place for high school baseball this year.
Instead, Ely Head Coach Frank Ivancich summoned Housey from left field, and the righthander got out of the fifth with a 9-4 Ely lead. Housey blanked the Warriors in the sixth but ran into some difficulty in the seventh, yielding two hits, walking a batter and beaning the number-nine hitter with two outs to make it a 9-6 game.
Up stepped Moore, one of Deer River’s top hitters, but his fly ball was chased down by Killoran to end the rally and Deer River’s season.
Housey and Schreffler had two hits each for the Wolves, while Merhar knocked in two runs and Killoran scored three times.
Seeding for the state tournament will take place Saturday, when the Wolves will learn their first-round opponent and game time.