by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
A ballplayer could not have a much better single inning than Joe Gonrowski did in the third inning Friday as he sparked the Elk River Elks over the Blaine Bengals 7-6 at home.
After Elk starter Jordan Holum gave up four runs in the third — on a two-run double by Nick Caldeen and a two-single by Kyle Hamby (20), to fall behind 4-1 — Gonrowski was summoned with no outs and runners at first and third.
The left-handed Gonrowski induced a ground out to shortstop Erik Nyquist on the first pitch, starting a double play, then got the next guy on a pop-up, putting out the fire.
“When you come in from the bullpen, you just want to get ahead in the count, and make that first pitch a strike,” said Gonrowski, a senior. “It was a fastball to the outside half of the plate. He hit the grounder and ‘Ny’ made a real nice play on it.”
In the bottom of the inning, Gonrowski came up in Hollom’s spot with bases loaded and two out. He ripped the first pitch into left-center, sending home all three runs. “I just went with the pitch,” said Gonrowski.
When Austin Heuer followed with a single to center, Gonrowski was waved home. He should have been out, but his karma was so good that inning that the catcher bobbled the throw and he was safe, regaining a 5-4 lead for the Elks.
Asked if he’s ever had an inning like that one before, Gonrowski said, “I can’t say that I have. That was big for our team. It kept us in the ball game. After that we figured we could find a way to win.”
Hollum came back to drive home the winning run as the Elks improved to 3-1 and Blaine dropped to 1-4.
Gonrowski pitched three scoreless innings before giving up five hits in the sixth and seventh, and a single run each inning, as the Elks fell behind 6-5.
“I give them credit for changing their approach to my off-speed pitches,” said Gonrowski, whose five-inning log included two runs, three strikeouts, and two runners picked off first base to end innings.
The Elks weren’t through. Ben Johnson walked to lead off the last of the seventh. Blaine brought in its best pitcher, lefty Zach Rustad, to try put it away. Nyquist bunted Johnson to second.
Brandon Meyer, with a 1-2 count, singled to center. Elk coach Ryan Holmgren waved Johnson home. Again, the throw beat the runner, but Johnson’s foot dislodged the ball from the catcher and he was called safe.
Blaine coach Eric Feigum protested that Johnson illegally kicked the catcher’s glove, but the umpire disagreed. Holmgren’s take: “The catcher wasn’t giving him any of the plate so Ben slid into him.”
Hollom then re-entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Gonrowski.
“That was just a lefty-righty situation,” said Holmgren, noting that Gonrowski had gotten his big hit off a right-hander and he wanted Hollom back in to face the left-hander.
Hollom, atoning for his rough start on the mount, came through at the plate, belting a long fly ball just inside the left-field line to send home Meyer with the game-winner.
“I told Jordan I took him out,” said Holmgren, “to keep your head in the game, because we might still need you to go back in, maybe pinch hit. I didn’t tell him he might redeem himself, but that’s what he did.”
About the seventh-inning rally, the coach smiled: “We did everything you’d want to have happen in that situation. Leadoff batter got on, good bunt, and a couple good swings.”
The Elks overcame a big game by Blaine center fielder Tyler Reichenborn (34) who went 3-for-3 with a double and hit-by-pitch, and drove home the tying run. He also made three perfect throws from center field after Elk singles with a man on second. All three should have been outs but he only got one, with the catcher failing to hold the ball on the other two.
The Elks had six hits, with nobody getting more than one.
On Saturday, the Elks will play twice on the road, at Park Center at 1 p.m. and Armstrong at 4:30 p.m.