by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River VFW baseball is one win from the state tournament after winning five straight games in the losers bracket of the district tournament.
The Elks, who lost to Champlin Park 10-0 in the first round of the final eight on Friday, outslugged the same team 16-15 in the finals Monday evening, but must beat the Rebels two straight. The title will be decided in a game 6 p.m. Tuesday at Anoka High School.
“We’ve got a good nucleus of 10 or 11 kids in this age group who are pretty dedicated to playing baseball,” said Ryan Holmgren, the Elks varsity coach who also helms the VFW team. “This is always a very important summer in the development of the program. That’s why I coach at this level.”
The Elks are 28-11, playing 39 games in less than two months. After surviving the opening round of district when the 27-team field was trimmed to eight, they dropped the all-important quarterfinal game to Champlin, but came back to defeat Anoka 5-2, Centennial 10-7, Maple Grove 5-4, Armstrong 10-9 and Champlin.
The roster is mostly juniors-to-be, although Ben Johnson, an all-conference player for the Elks as a junior this spring, is young enough to play VFW and joined them after the Legion season ended.
Johnson drove home seven runs in the 16-15 win over the Rebels with a single, two doubles and a triple. He also pitched the win over Maple Grove.
A.J. Overton’s bat has been blazing, as well. Overton homered against Anoka and pitched the distance. He had a triple, single, two runs and RBI against Centennial; a single, double, triple and RBI against Maple Grove; and a tie-breaking homer in the seventh against Champlin Park.
Three times in the last four years, the Elks have made the final eight, no small feat in a 27-team district, and the 2012 team reached state.
The state tournament will be held Aug. 1-4 in Brainerd.