Baseball: Elks sweep Armstrong 3-2 and 9-3 as clutch hits trump wildness

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Elk River pitching gave up 18 walks in two games Monday, but the still-unbeaten Elks were able to sweep a doubleheader at Robbinsdale Armstrong by getting the key outs and the clutch hits when needed.

Nick Johnson slammed a homer in the eighth inning to win the opener 3-2, and a trio of two-run doubles, by Brandon O’Connor, Tim Sanford and Brady Givens, lifted the Elks 9-3 in the second game.

“That first game, that was our most impressive win this year, because we weren’t sharp, and we still won,” said coach Ryan Holmgren. “We walked 11 batters, very uncharacteristic of us this year.”

What the coach liked about the second game was the way the Elks responded after falling behind 1-0 and then 3-1 — by striking back right away each time.

“We’ve been preaching that all year, and quite a bit we’ve been able to answer right  back.”

The Elks are 3-0 in the NWSC and 7-0 overall. The first game Monday was conference and the second was non-conference.

The early part of the schedule has not included the top teams the Elks will face, Holmgren noted, adding that the team needs to just keep focusing.

Asked how the Elks, a program mired below .500 for several years, are handling success, he said, “Pretty well, so far. We haven’t talked much about it.”

Next is Osseo there Wednesday.

Elks 3, Armstrong 2

Johnson, a pleasant surprise offensively this year, broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the eighth. Leading off the inning, he hit a moon shot that curled just inside  the left-field foul pole  about 320 feet away.

Johnson was 3-for-4 with two RBI and a stolen base, raising his batting average to a team-leading .444 (8-for-18).

“Nick is a big, strong, kid with good speed, a very good athlete,” said Holmgren. “He didn’t play much last year because he had a broken collarbone.”

Elk closer Brady Givens made the lead stand up as he walked two batters but struck out a pair as well.

Elk starter Terry Hadden walked eight batters in four innings (he’d walked only one in 10 previous innings) but gave up only one run, leaving bases loaded twice. He struck out five.

Erik Nyquist worked three innings, giving up one unearned run and one walk, and got the win. The three hurlers combined for a four-hitter with 11 walks. A nice double play from Givens to Brandon Meyer to Tim Sanford got Nyquist out of a base-loaded jam in the fifth.

Jordan Hollom was 2-for-3 with a double and Hadden 1-for-2 with an RBI.

Elks 9, Armstrong 3

O’Connor, the No. 9 hitter, twice answered the coaches’ call to strike back after the other team scores. His run-scoring single in the last of the second tied it 1-1, and his two-run, two-out double in the last of the fifth knotted it 3-3, after which Porter Morrell singled him home for a 4-3 lead.

Jordan Hollom got through five innings, capped by a 1-2-3 fifth, to snag with win, allowing three runs. Joe Gonrowski held the lead in the sixth, striking out two batters.

Givens was warming up to get another save, but the save situation went away as the Elks scored five in the last of the sixth. The big blows were Sanford’s bases-loaded double off the fence in center, and Givens following with another two-run two-bagger.

Givens finished the game anyway with another scoreless frame. The three hurlers combined for a two-hitter albeit with seven more walks.

Morrell was 3-for-4 and O’Connor 2-for-2.