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Prep baseball: Merhar returns to mound just in time to lead Ely to upset of Deer River

Ely junior Gage Merhar started on the mound in the Timberwolves’ season opener on April 7, only to start feeling pain in the third inning and pulling himself out in the fourth.

“I just couldn’t go anymore,” Merhar said.

Merhar initially thought he tore ligaments in his elbow. Turns out it was just inflamed, and on Thursday in the Section 7A baseball championship at Wade Stadium, he returned to start on the mound for the first time with Ely needing to take two games from Deer River to advance to next week’s state tournament.

The Timberwolves did just that, with 12-7 and 9-6 victories. Merhar pitched six strong innings in the 12-7 opening win, while Dalton  Schreffler got the win in the second game. Sophomore Tyler Housey, pitching in his first varsity game, also came up big on the mound.

“We were out of arms,” Ely coach Frank Ivancich said. “But they’re a resilient group, and we felt like all the pressure was on them.”

Ely, the defending section champion, advances to its sixth state tournament and fourth in the past six years. The Timberwolves open play in the Class A quarterfinals on June 15 at the Mini Met in Jordan against an opponent to be determined upon completion of seedings.

Deer River was trying for its fourth appearance, having gone in 2010, 2011 and 2015.

The fourth-ranked Warriors (21-4) featured 12 seniors to just one for Ely (20-8), but the Warriors’ strong pitching struggled on this day after dominating most of the spring. In a sign of things to come, Deer River walked the first batter on just four pitches to open both games.

“We just dug ourselves in too big of hole and couldn’t dig ourselves out of it,” longtime Deer River coach Jim Erzar said. “But I give credit to our guys for hanging in there and then battling back. We gave ourselves a chance, but we just didn’t have it today.”

Merhar, a junior shortstop and catcher, proved to be great at the plate as well as on the mound, with six RBIs on the day. After not playing for two months, Merhar logged 113 pitches on Thursday, just two below the state high school league mandated maximum of 115.

Merhar was asked how his arm felt. He smiled and said, “Right now, it feels great.”

Section 7A Championship

Game 1

Ely 12, Deer River 7

WP: Gage Merhar 6IP, 3R, 2ER, 4H, 6K, 5BB. E: Mark Killoran 3H, 3R, 4RBI; Luke Olson H, 3BB, 3R; Merhar 3H (2B), 2BB, 4RBI; Dalton Schreffler 3H, 2R; Carter Gaulke H, 2BB, 2R. DR: Chad Benham H, BB, 2R, RBI; Robert Moore 2H (3B), R, RBI; Jaxson Willis 3B, 2BB, 3R, RBI.

Game 2

Ely 9, Deer River 6

WP: Dalton Schreffler 4.1IP, 4R. E: Mark Killoran 2BB, 3R, RBI; Gage Merhar 2BB, R, 2RBI; Tyler Housey 2H, 2BB, R; Schreffler 2H, R, RBI. DR: Dakota Goggle 2B, BB, R; Chad Benham 2H, BB, R, 2RBI; Robert Moore 2BB, R.