by Eric Oslund
The Elk River Post 112 legion baseball team made their way to Irondale High School on July 7 to compete in the annual Gopher Classic tournament. They would play five games in their pool from Friday to Sunday, with a chance to continue playing all the way to Tuesday, depending on their success in pool and bracket play.
It all started against Excelsior on Friday. The two teams battled back and forth in the early on, seemingly trading off 1-point leads every half inning. But things changed in a hurry during the top of the fourth.
The Elks were able to load the bases and then the Excelsior pitcher hit Mitch Stroh to score a run, tying the game 4-4. Caden Gatlin followed that up by drawing a walk to score another run to give the Elks a 5-4 lead.
Connor Hogan would then open the flood gates by blasting a double, his second of the game, to left field, scoring two more runs and putting the Elks up 7-4. Then Brandon Becklin, Zach Olson, and Brad Geist would all record RBI’s of their own to put their team up 10-4.
The Elks appeared to be on their way to a blowout, but their opponents would being inching their way back into the game. First it was a run being scored off a single up the middle in the fifth to make it 10-5. Then a pair of soft singles scored two more runs to make it a 10-7 game.
Excelsior had cut Elk River’s lead to 10-8 in the fifth inning, but the Elks would get three back thanks to a single from Wyatt Morrell and a pair of doubles from Stroh and Hogan – his third of the day.
Post 112 held a 13-8 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth, but once again, their opponents were able to hang around, scoring a pair of runs to make it a 3-run game.
Excelsior would then put down the Elks in order during the top of the seventh, including a pair of strikeouts, to keep the score at 13-10. They had a chance to steal the win from the Elks. Their first two batters were able to reach base, and that’s when the coaching staff decided to change pitchers.
Morrell took the mound with runners on first and second with no outs. He struck out the first batter he faced, but would walk the second one to load the bases, but would quickly get back to work and record another strike out.
Bases loaded with two outs and a 3-run lead. It was a good place to be in and you could feel the tension start to lift off the shoulders of those around the Elk River dugout. That sense of relief wouldn’t last long, though, as a misplaced pitch by Morrell led to a double by the Excelsior batter. It could have been the hit that tied the game, but Gatlin was able to dive in front of the ball as it raced towards the wall in the right-center field gap – cutting it off and forcing the runner to stay at third.
Just like that, the tension returned as the Elks clung to a 13-12 lead with two outs and runners on second and third. But, like all good pitchers in this game, Morrell proved to have a short memory and struck out the next batter he faced, securing the win for his team.
There was no rest for the wicked, though, as Post 112 hosted Eastview right after their first game had finished up. And once again it was Morrell taking the mound. He did a good job closing out their first game, so why not just ride the hot hand?
Eastview was able to score one run in the first inning thanks to an Elk River error, but the Elks tied it up in the bottom of the inning off another double from Hogan – his fourth of the day.
Olson, Adam Kruger, Nate Horn and Stroh all found their way on base in the second inning, after their defense held Eastview in check, and suddenly the Elks were up 3-1.
Their opponents would get one back in the third, but then the Elks got hot, scoring five runs in the bottom of the fourth to take an 8-2 lead.
Eastview would add one more run in the sixth inning, but that’s all they would get as the Elks went on to defeat Eastview by a score of 8-3. Morrell led the way on defense, pitching all seven innings to help lead his team to a perfect 2-0 start in the Gopher Classic.
It was right where they were hoping to be, and looked to ride that momentum into Saturday and Sunday, but that wouldn’t be the case – going 1-2 in their final three games after losing to Blaine 11-10, defeating Irondale 18-6, but then losing to Depere (Wisco.) 5-4.
They finished second behind Ham Lake in their pool, narrowly missing out on advancing to bracket play.
Like so many of their losses this season, errors just ended up getting the best of the Elks. They began piling up against Blaine in the final two innings, which included a walk-off error that went through the third baseman’s legs to end it.
But that was the only game where the errors took control of the Elks, as their other loss was just a good, hard-fought game where they came up just short in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Post 112 will follow up the Gopher Classic with three more regular-season games against Coon Rapids, Fridely, and Spring Lake Park before the start of the sub-state tournament, which will begin around July 19 – all games will be played at Osseo.