by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Look who’s a conference champion — the Elk River baseball team.
With Erik Nyquist pitching a 3-1 win over Maple Grove and Jordan Hollom belting a two-run homer on Thursday in Maple Grove, the Elks officially tied for first place with Anoka.
The Elks, who last year got above .500 for the first time since 2004, went 8-2 in conference games, same as Anoka, whom they beat 2-1 on Wednesday.
“It feels pretty good,” said Nyquist, a senior with a 5-1 record, about the first-place finish. “We have a lot of talent and good team players who know their roles. We just keep battling and keep winning.”
The NWSC schedule normally has 16 games but, due to numerous postponements in this cold, wet spring, coaches decided to make it a 10-game schedule and count only the first time each team meets. That worked out well for the Elks, who beat Blaine and Centennial the first time and lost the second time.
The Elks (9-5 overall) still have six non-conference games left, four of them against NWSC rivals. They’ll play both Champlin Park and Anoka on Friday at 4 and 7 p.m.
Coach Ryan Holmgren had several holes to fill this year after graduating four of the team’s five all-conference players from a 15-5 team. But the Elks generated another solid lineup led by much-improved seniors Nyquist and Hollom, who’s pitched two wins and delivered three game-winning hits.
Holmgren said he knew there was talent in the top two grades if they could mesh it together into a good lineup.
“The biggest thing is the development of our pitching,” said Holmgren, “for Eric to come in and have a great senior year, and really improve off what he showed last year, and for Jordan to work all winter to change what he is doing in order to be more effective pitcher and become a horse for us down the stretch.”
Nyquist, coming off his lone loss (against Blaine), gave up just five hits and one walk, striking out two.
His fielders backed him up well except for one outfield error. In the fifth, center fielder Mylo Hommes made a lunging, over-the-shoulder catch, and catcher Brennan Beese threw out a base-stealer to end the inning.
Nyquist said the key for him is “staying around the strike zone, keeping batters off balance, and a lot of reliance on the defense.”
Maple Grove (10-8) led 1-0 in the third when Matt Vogl singled, stole second, and scored on Mason McMahaon’s single.
Hollom’s home run to left field in the fourth inning, with Nyquist on base with a double, put the Elks up 2-1.
“Jordan hit a fast ball, the first pitch,” said Holmgren. “He got the pitch he wanted. It’s not easy to hit one out of here, especially for a right-handed batter.”
The Elks added a run in the fifth as Riley Givens singled and scored on Ben Johnson’s double. Givens had two of the Elks five hits.
Noah Croaker took the loss, giving up three runs in five innings.
Holmgren said the team knew that a share off the conference title was at stake but stressed to not think about that
“We didn’t want to make it more than it was — just another baseball game. That’s how we had to approach it, and the kids did.”
The Elks beat both Anoka and Maple Grove without the services of senior standout Brandon Meyer, who has a pulled hamstring. The Elks’ lone returning all-conference player has missed three games.