by Eric Oslund
The Elk River VFW team finished the regular season with a 12-6 league record – 18-9 overall – and received the No. 4 seed out of 21 teams in their district.
In the six seasons that Ryan Holmgren has coached the VFW team, he has never had a group of players finish the regular season that well. Then to build off of that, the team was able to defeat Washburn in the first round of the tournament and advance to the final eight teams – just the fourth time it’s happened since Holmgren has arrived.
And what has led to this great season for the VFW team filled with soon-to-be sophomores and juniors?
“Offensively, we hit the ball pretty well,” Holmgren said. “We’ve had some good pitching performances, we’ve had some pitching outings, our defense has gotten better as we’ve gone on throughout the summer, but we’ve really been carried offensively in the games we’ve won and the games we’ve played well.”
That offensive prowess was on display against Washburn on Monday, July 17, when they took the first game 12-5. Things got a little hairy in the third inning when three errors by Elk River led to three Washburn runs, giving them a 5-4 lead, but that all went to the wayside when the home team got back up to bat in the bottom of the inning.
They were then looking to build off that late-game momentum in Game 2, which was played right after their first win, but mother nature had other plans.
Elk River had a 6-4 lead in the top of the fifth inning with one out already recorded when a huge storm came barreling into Hales Field. The game was postponed for Wednesday, July 19, and Holmgren knew it was a tricky spot to be in. Two runs wasn’t a big lead and Washburn would already have a runner on second base when they resumed play.
“I told them, ‘The theme with it is about the mentality,’” the head coach began. “You’ve got to approach it like it’s a brand new day. You can’t say, ‘Well, we were beating them and we were playing well yesterday or the day before, so we’ll just come out here and expect it to be that way.’ We have to come out and prepare like it’s like a brand new day, a brand new game, and I thought they did a really good job of that.”
The home team was able to record two quick outs and head to the bottom of the fifth where they were once again able to flex their strength by rattling off seven runs and just as many hits – if not more.
They came just one run short of 10 running Washburn in the fifth inning, and it was the score that would stick for the rest of the game as Elk River went on to win 13-4, advancing to the final eight of their district tournament.