ELY — After splitting a pair of doubleheaders with Mesabi Range to kick off their divisional schedule, the Vermilion baseball team knows they’re in for a dogfight when it comes to who will come out on top of the MCAC North.
From what he’s seen, head coach Tom Coombe believes all five teams in the division (Hibbing, Itasca and Rainy River along with the two already mentioned) look to be close to even across the board after many split series on opening weekend.
“What we’ve seen from this last week and a half is that our division looks to be very evenly matched,” Coombe said. “We split with Mesabi, Mesabi split with Rainy River, Rainy River split with Itasca. I think up and down the entire division anyone can beat anyone on any given day and that’ll make the race fun to watch.”
For the Ironmen, they’ll need to rely on their hitting lineup and keep the offense going if they want to win games.
“I think our 1-9 is as good as anybody in the division. That’s going to be our strength. It’s a better hitting lineup than we’ve had in the past.”
But some things will also need to be worked on if they hope to compete. While the starting pitching staff looks solid, it’s not complete and Vermilion’s defense will need to come together more if they hope to keep runs off the board.
“We still have some things to shore up defensively. Pitching, we have three pretty reliable starters but we’re struggling to find a fourth. And we’ll need to see who can be most effective coming out of the bullpen.”
After their season was cut short last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Coombe doesn’t think his squad or anyone in the division is thinking too much about another shutdown.
“I don’t think anybody’s really got that on their mind too much once you get out on the field and play. We’ve been fortunate enough to get through 20 games so far without incident and the teams in our division have done so as well.
“We’re hoping we can finish things out this year because it would be a shame for any team to have to sit out because of a quarantine or a COVID case or two. We want to get through these next few weeks and be able to decide our season for ourselves on the field.”
As with any junior college program, athletes on any team are hoping to make it to the next level. In this case, that means moving on to a four-year school, something Vermilion has some success at enabling.
“That’s one of the selling points for coming to a junior college. You get a chance to play, hopefully do well and get the opportunity to go to a four-year. We’ve got a handful of guys being recruited right now for four-years and I think that’s in the back of everyone’s minds when they come here. They want to get the chance to play and move on to a higher level.”
Vermilion’s ultimate goal is to finish amongst the top three in the MCAC North and move on to regional play in St. Cloud beginning May 13.
“We hope to compete int he north and be in a position to advance to the regional tournament for the first time in a few years. Our early games have given us some optimism and we have a good mix of returning and incoming talent to help make it happen.”