by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River had realistic hopes to reach the state baseball tournament this spring but the dream expired Tuesday when their normally potent bats were quelled for the second time in three games.
Grand Rapids right-hander Billy Hammann, using guile rather than gas, limited the Elks to four singles, one walk and one hit batter, and sent the Elks home with a 2-0 loss in the Section 7AA tournament at Grand Rapids.
“He wasn’t real big and he didn’t throw hard, didn’t ‘wow’ you, but he changed speeds real well and kept us off balance, and got the job done,” said Elk coach Ryan Holmgren.
With a stellar effort by Elk right-hander Terry Hadden gone for naught, the Elks finished 15-5, including 2-2 in the section, which they entered as the No. 1 seed. They were also stymied by North Branch’s Blake Jorgenson 5-1 in the second round.
“It’s pretty tough for the kids,” said Holmgren. “We have a really good group of senior leaders and they had high aspirations and lofty goals. We didn’t get as far as we wanted.”
The Elks needed four wins in two days to come out of the lower bracket and lost the first of those. Grand Rapids (17-5) went on to win another elimination game with — get this — Hammann throwing another shutout, 2-0 against North Branch, right after beating the Elks.
A pitcher who depends on craftiness rather than power, Hammann was the rare hurler who could throw 14 innings in one day. He was also something the Elks weren’t accustomed to.
“In our conference we have a lot of pitchers who throw hard,” said Holmgren, “and not many like him.”
The Elks, who finished with a .329 team batting average, scored plenty of runs in the regular season but had two bad games out of four in the playoffs. Their other games were won 10-0 over Duluth Denfeld and 9-2 over Princeton.
Holmgren said the Elks actually hit the ball consistently with just two strikeouts, but got under quite a few balls and had some hard shots right at fielders. They were frustrated late in the game and Hammann finished with two 1-2-3 innings.
Porter Morrell had two hits and Hadden and Sanford one each for the Elks.
Both Thunderhawk runs scored when Hunter Shepard drilled a double down the right-field line in the third inning, after Hadden walked two batters with two outs.
Hadden (5-2) was nicked for just three hits and three walks in six innings while striking out four. Brady Givens finished with a scoreless frame.
The Elks posted the program’s first winning record since 2004.
“When we look back in a couple days, we’ll know it was a very good season,” said Holmgren. “This senior class elevated the program to a new level.”