by Eric Oslund
Things were not looking good for the Elk River legion baseball team when they lost in the first round of their district tournament to St. Michael 7-2. But give the boys credit, they battled back and gave it their all.
It’s the same they had done all season, especially after the way their school ball season had gone. There were a lot of high expectations surrounding the Elks heading into the spring, but the team ended up going 9-11 in the regular season and 1-2 in the section tournament.
“I have to give them a lot of credit because they had every reason after the school year to kind of be like, ‘Oh, we’re not very good,’” legion manager Tucker Morrell began, “and they played very well and we’ll take the 15 wins we got and probably should have had more.”
The boys came into the season with something to prove. To prove they were better than their school ball season indicated, not only to their opponents, but to themselves. So it was no big deal when they fell in that first round, they were ready to make a run through the losers’ bracket and get another shot at the state tournament.
First, they would defeat Monticello 6-2 on Thursday, July 20. Connor Hogan went 3-for-4 with three doubles in the game, Mitch Stroh hit a solo home run, and Zach Olson was able to finish off seven innings with just 75 pitchers.
It was the type of game they needed, and it helped spring them into a 6-2 win over Osseo the next day. Pitching was once again strong for the squad from Elk River as Alex Pipenhagen went seven and two-third innings before having to be pulled because of the new pitch count rule. But his performance was more than enough to send them into Saturday’s match up against Maple Grove.
This class of Elks, whether it was in traveling baseball, school ball, legion ball, or any other league, always had trouble with Maple Grove – especially their ace pitcher, Charlie (Bubba) Horton. The 2017 graduating class had never defeated Horton before, and of course he would be the one taking the mound when these two teams squared off for the last time.
Then, as if written on a script out of Hollywood, the Elks finally got the best of the future Minnesota Golden Gopher.
“That was probably the most excited I’ve seen those boys after a win in really the last five years,” Morrell said. “They really wanted to beat Bubba. We faced Bubba the last two years, four times, and hadn’t scored more than one run on him. Then you get into Saturday and we put up 10 on him in four innings, and then we got seven on their other pitchers in the last five innings. They were excited. They really got into the game.”
It was a marathon-type game that lasted three hours and 45 minutes – typically a 2-hour game is about average – but it was the Elks who came out on top 17-12.
The kids were excited, they were running on an adrenaline high, but they had to play again that night against Anoka – a team that had been resting up all day. So by the time the two teams took to the field again, it was clear the Elks were coming down off the big rush they had just experienced.
Anoka jumped out to an early lead, and try as they might, Post 112 could never get back into it.
“I was hoping that something would happen in that Anoka game where we would get it back, but nothing went our way the whole game. We couldn’t get back in it, and they were trying too. They were trying to get up, they were talking, but you could see it in them that they didn’t have anything left,” Morrell explained. “We made one push. Mitch Stroh hit a 2-run double in the sixth inning, that made it 5-2, and I was kind of thinking, ‘Alright, we’ve got a chance.’ Then Cole Daleiden ripped one to the left fielder and the kid made a great catch, and that took the air back out again and we never really had a chance after that.”
The Elks would lose 7-3, ending their season and the high school careers of so many seniors on the team.
It was not the way anyone was hoping the season would end, especially after such an exciting victory over Maple Grove, but sometimes players just run out of gas, and that’s what happened here. The 9-inning games in the legion tournament just ended up getting the best of them, but the players certainly have nothing to hang their heads about.
“You have to give them a lot of credit because they really played hard and they gave it all they had. They wanted one last run through the state tournament. They wanted to be there. It just didn’t happen,” Morrell concluded. “I’m very proud of them.”