by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River is one win away from the state baseball tournament after Ben Johnson and Brandon Meyer powered an 8-3 win over Duluth East on Monday evening.
Johnson pitched five shutout innings before needing relief, and ripped a three-run double, while Meyer knocked in four runs with a homer and a triple, at Anoka High School.
The Elks (16-7) emerged as the lone unbeaten in the 12-team Section 7AAA tournament. They will have two chances to win once in the finals Wednesday, starting 4:30 p.m. at Anoka.
In the one-loss bracket, St. Francis will duel Chisago Lakes on Tuesday, with the winner facing Duluth East. The team emerges from those three will be the Elks’ opponent.
“We have been trying to simplify things,” said coach Ryan Holmgren, “in case we ever got into this position, to keep doing what we have been doing and treat it like just another ballgame. But we are in the envious spot.”
Johnson (2-2), the Elks’ No. 3 starter, prevailed over Duluth East’s No. 1, Jake Turner, who gave up some big hits to the Elks while his infield also let him down.
“We gambled and won, and now we can come back with Erik Nyquist and Jordan Hollom (in the finals),” said Holmgren, referring to his No. 1 and 2 starters.
Meyer, a left-handed batter, went the opposite way with a towering homer to straightaway left field in the first inning, following a single by Erik Nyquist.
In the third, Johnson came up with bases loaded and none out, after two Elks got aboard on booted grounders, sandwiched around Alex McMillan’s single.
Johnson had a 3-0 count, took two strikes, fouled one off, then ripped a hard grounder inside third base that scooted into the left-field corner. Holmgren in the third-base coaching box never stopped winding his right arm as all three runners scored.
“Ben is a big-game kind of player,” said Holmgren.
In the fourth, Mylo Hommes slugged a long triple to center with one out. With runners at first and third, Hommes was caught in a hot-box after a grounder to first, but managed to escape and dive home safely.
Minutes later, Meyer batted with runners at first and third. After his homer in the first and a scorching line drive in the third that was caught for a double play, Meyer crushed another Turner pitch, this one to deep right field. The outfielder had a play but the ball sailed over his head and both runs scored.
Johnson took an 8-0 lead into the sixth when he gave up a homer to Chris Olson, his third hit-by-pitch and an RBI single to Frankie Hansen. Gonrowski gave up a single to Willem Aldrich for another run before getting the side out. The Greyhounds loaded the bases in the seventh but Gonrowski stranded them there.
The Elks had only seven hits but those included a double, two triples and a homer that all figured mightily in the scoring, as they cruised against team that beat them 3-2 in the regular season finale.
On Wednesday, the Elks will try secure their first state baseball berth since 2004.