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History repeats itself for Ely’s state baseball team

CHASKA, Minn. — As Yogi Berra might have said, it was déjà vu all over again.

The last time Ely and New York Mills met at the Minnesota Class A high school baseball tournament, the Timberwolves let a late lead slip away in a 3-2 setback. That was in 2012, when hard-luck Ely went 1-2 and finished sixth despite being tied or leading in 19 of 21 tournament innings.

History repeated itself Thursday at Chaska Athletic Park, where the Eagles were left for dead before rallying for four unanswered runs in the final two innings to stun the Section 7A champs 4-3 in the only close Class A quarterfinal of the day.

After unseeded Ely (21-3) staked pitcher Louie Gerzin to a 3-0 lead, the Timberwolves appeared destined for the semifinals. It appeared the lone run Ely scored in the third inning would be more than enough as Gerzin allowed just one hit and struck out seven through five innings.

Things unraveled in the sixth, which ultimately set the stage for Damon Tumberg’s game-winning single in the seventh.

“Me and my assistants, Tom (Coombe) and Cory (Lassi), talked and it’s like, ‘Man, it’s the same thing again — we just got snakebitten,’ ” Timberwolves coach Frank Ivancich said.

No. 2 seed New York Mills (24-0) needed just two hits to score three sixth-    inning runs and a forge a tie. The potent Eagles, who entered Thursday averag-ing nearly nine runs per outing, instead capitalized on a walk from Gerzin, a hit batsman, a passed ball and a sacrifice fly. Not pretty, but effective.

The comeback was made all the more improbable considering the groove Gerzin was in. At one point, the senior right-hander used his sharp breaking ball to retire 12 of 13 Eagles. He finished with eight strikeouts and allowed just four hits.

“This team never quits,” said New York Mills coach Chris Bushinger, whose team finished third a year ago. “Our last few state tournaments we’ve had seventh-inning comebacks. … They know the game isn’t over until the final out is recorded.”

The Eagles, who aren’t making any friends in the Northland — aside from beating Ely in the 2012 fifth-place game, they also edged Floodwood 6-5 in the state quarterfinals a year ago — hook up with No. 3 Chatfield at 2:30 p.m. today. The winner advances to Saturday’s state title game against either BOLD or New Life Academy at Target Field.

Ely faces Royalton at 12:30 p.m. today in a consolation semifinal at the Mini Met in Jordan, Minn.

The Timberwolves, meanwhile, are left to lament what might have been.

“We were in a good position,” Ivancich said. “We had a little bit of a cushion, but you know a team like this … we’re not going to shut them out.”

Leading 1-0 thanks to three infield singles and a wild pitch in the third inning, the Timberwolves added two more runs in the fifth. Spencer Gaulke blasted a triple to right-center field and was driven in by Max Gantt. Gerzin brought home Gantt with a bloop single to right, and just like that Ely had opened up a 3-0 lead over an opponent that outscored its first 23 victims 204-31 against a pitcher — Brandon Kupfer — whose 0.81 ERA was barely perceptible.

Nonetheless, Bushinger’s message to his team was simple.

“Keep battling,” the coach said. “You have to keep digging until the final out is done.”

After reaching on a fielder’s choice in the bottom of the seventh, New York Mills’ Nick Kupfer stole second base with one out. Tumberg followed by lacing a low liner to center field. Jeff Willis, normally the Timberwolves’ right fielder who moved to center to replace the injured Bobby Shusta at the start of the section playoffs, dove and nearly snagged the inning’s second out. But it glanced off his glove, allowing Kupfer to motor across as the Eagles spilled from the dugout.

“I was watching it the whole way, hoping it would fall,” Tumberg said. “It felt great.”

As the ball sailed toward center field, Gerzin knew it was out of his hands.

“It’s going to be a big play or not — either he saves the game or he doesn’t,” Gerzin said. “That’s the game of baseball — couple dropped balls here, couple dropped balls there, and it’s a different game.”

Class A State Tournament


At Chaska, Minn.

New York Mills 4, Ely 3

WP: Brandon Kupfer 7IP, 3ER, 9H, 8K, 1BB. LP: Louie Gerzin 6.1IP, 4ER, 4H, 8K, 1BB, 3HBP. NYM (24-0): Damon Tumberg 2x2 (2B), RBI, R; Brandon Kupfer 2B, RBI; Tucker Skoblik RBI. E (21-3): Spencer Gaulke 2x4 (3B), 2R; Max Gantt 2x4 (2B), RBI, R; Pat Huisman 3x4.