by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River baseball has new uniforms and a new coach this year, and so far the newbies have not experienced a defeat. Their new closer helps a lot, too.
Brady Givens picked up his second “save” this week and knocked in three runs as the Elks fended off a Park Center rally to win 7-6 at home and boost their record to 4-0 Thursday.
“I think we’ve found our closer,” said coach Ryan Holmgren, after Givens got the last five outs and pitched out of jams in the sixth and seventh, saving a win for Tucker Morrell.
The new Elk uni’s are elegant in their simplicity, much like the Dodger uniforms, with Elk River in script and block numbers, and no stripes, with red belts and undershirts providing the only other color along with a small Old Glory above the numbers. They’ve got road grays and home whites.
Holmgren, who coached previously at Spring Lake Park and had Dodger replica uni’s there, gives the Elks the option at home of wearing pants down to the shoes, as is the modern custom, or to spiff up wearing red sox with white stripes (minus the old stirrups that have fallen from favor). Four Elks choose to wear sox and pull the pants up, including Tucker Morrell.
It’s a really nice look either way, especially when you’re 4-0.
The Elks were outhit 13-11 by Park Center (1-2) but made no errors for the second straight game and left 12 runners on base.
Morrell, coming off his 2-1 opening-day win over Coon Rapids, struggled against the Pirates, giving up 10 hits, four walks and five runs, while striking out seven, in 5 1/3 innings.
The Elks were up 7-3 in the sixth when Morrell fanned the leadoff man, then gave up two singles. Holmgren brought in soph third baseman Sam Wirtz, who got a couple pitches up high, and Tony Kraemer and Jake Schultz crushed them for long doubles that sent home one and two runs, respectively, making it 7-6.
Givens was summoned from second base and got the Elks out of it with two come-backers to the mound. In the seventh he gave up an infield hit (trying to field a topper that he should have left for the first baseman) and a walk, but he stranded them, getting the last out via strikeout.
“I’ve always liked having the ball in my hand at the end of a game,” said Givens, who got the last five outs (three by strikeout) against Armstrong on Monday. “I’ve been mostly a reliever all along. Usually longer relief.”
Givens, a junior who split between varsity and JV in ninth and 10th grades, was 2-for-3 and had RBI’s on both singles and on a ground out
Sam Krick went 3-for-4 with a double, two runs and an RBI, while Wirtz was 2-for-3 (RBI) and Corey Collins 2-for-4 (double).
Mark Lundholm took the loss for Park Center, giving up seven runs in five innings. Brandon Budnick finished. Leadoff man Austin Ledin had three singles and two walks, and scored twice.
The Elks’ 4-0 start is not entirely surprising to Collins, senior shortstop, even though the Elks were 7-13 last year and 1-21 the year before, and haven’t been above .500 since 2004.
“Our VFW and Legion both did really well last summer,” he noted. “VFW went to state, and now those younger guys are stepping up for us. We’re proud of them.”
He added, “Our pitching staff is doing great, the defense has only had like four errors in four games, and the bats are hot.”
About the ebb and flow of the Park Center game, Holmgren reflected, “I’m not happy to lose leads, but it’s good that we had a game where the pressure was on us at the end, and we showed we can pull out a game like that.”
The Elks will host Hopkins on Monday in the lone non-conference game of their 20-game regular season.