ELY — Friday night’s tournament-opening game for the Rock Ridge American Legion baseball team wasn’t pretty, but Post 239 still managed to come away with a win, downing Breckenridge 11-10 in the Ely Legion Classic Friday evening.
Trailing 10-9 going into the bottom of the fifth, Rock Ridge’s Tom Nemanich came up to the plate with runners on first and second and one out. Batting cleanup, Nemanich came through when his number was called, ripping a double to right-center field to score both runners, putting Post 239 on top before their pitching carried them to the finish line.
“They battled and they didn’t give up,” Rock Ridge coach Jamie Lindseth said. “Our issue in the Hermantown game and our game yesterday with Hibbing was getting that quality hit, that quality at bat. Today we had runners on first and second multiple times and sometimes we got that big hit and sometimes we didn’t. Today, we got those hits when we needed them and found that way to win.”
Tied at zero through one inning, Post 53 got the best of Rock Ridge starter Will Bittmann. Zane Mikkelson reached on an infield error with Alex Sanchez joining him on the bases immediately after with a chopper to left field.
Two on and no one out, leadoff hitter Cam Nieto blasted a three-run homer over the centerfield fence to put Breckenridge on top.
The damage continued in the top of the third with Post 53 tacking on two more runs. Joey Conzemius reached on a two-out error and was swiftly brought home with a double to center from Mikkelson. Sanchez backed that up with his own two-out double to center that put Breckenridge up 5-0.
Sanchez’s hit ended Bittmann’s time on the mound with Post 239 bringing in Jaden Lang to finish out the inning.
Rock Ridge bounced back in the bottom of the third, plating five to knot things up while chasing out Breckenridge starter Dallen Ernst.
Cole Schaefer took a leadoff walk and was quickly brought home thanks to Dylan Hedley.
Hedley smacked a base hit into right with Schaefer beating out the throw to third. While trying to make the play at third, Breckenridge tried to pick off Hedley who was now on his way to second. Hedley beat out the tag, with Schaefer then taking his cue to come home in all the confusion, beating out the third throw of the play.
Tom Nemanich got on base next with a base hit turned into a double thanks to an infield error from Post 53. A base knock to right from Carter Flannigan scored Hedley, making it 5-2 with Breckenridge opting to put Kristopher Monday on the mound with no outs and runners on the corners.
Bittmann now at the plate, a throwing error to first on the attempted pickoff allowed Nemanich to score. Bittmann then hit a chopper up the middle, putting runners on the corner again. A fielder’s choice allowed Flannigan and Bittmann to advance a base. One out later, a single to left field from Sawyer Hallin brought both home, tying the game at five.
A quick 1-2-3 inning from Lang on the mound brought the Post 239 offense back to the plate, where they added four more runs to take their first lead of the game.
Hedley and Nemanich took walks to start the inning with Monday hitting Flannigan next to load up the bases. Not one, but two fielding blunders from Breckendridge allowed two runs to come in and score with Bittmann taking second base.
A third run came in and out later on a passed ball and the fourth on a fielder’s choice to Lang. As quickly as Rock Ridge gained their big lead, they watched it slip by just as fast.
Ernst got the top of the fifth started with a double to left off Lang. An out later, Conzemius was walked with Mikkelson etching a two-RBI double to center to score the two runners.
A passed ball put Mikkelson on third with Sanchez then advancing to first on a walk. A throwing error with Nieto at the plate allowed Mikkelson to score with the leadoff hitter then reaching first on a single. Lang’s day came to an end with Monday hitting a single to left to load the bases up.
Hedley came in with one out in the top of the fifth, trying to get out of the jam, but let a run in on a passed ball before issuing two straight walks to allow another run in, putting Post 53 up 10-9. Still with just one out, Hedley found a groove and got two straight strikeouts to end the inning.
The game’s scoring came to a close in the bottom of the fifth. Rock Ridge’s John Kendall reached to lead off the inning after being hit by a pitch, with Schaefer joining him on the bases after taking a walk.
One out later, Nemanich came up to the plate and blasted a double to right-center field to score two, putting Post 239 back on top for good, 11-10. Hedley recorded three strikeouts in the top of the sixth with Cole Schaefer grabbing the save in the top of the seventh.
“We’ve played cleaner games,” Lindseth said after the win. “We’ve pitched better games and we’ve hit better games but one thing is our guys showed a lot of heart today. They didn’t quit. I saw growth today and that was really cool to see.”
Comprised of players from Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia, Lindseth said Post 239’s roster is full of players who have already worked together, whether it be high school players or those who spent the last year playing college ball like Nemanich, Schaefer, Logan Nordby and Andrew Torrel.
“The high school kids came together this spring and now it’s cool to see some of those college guys come back and get to play under the Rock Ridge name after not getting the chance before they graduated. All the groups are gelling very well together and it’s a fun bunch.”
Still putting the pieces together, Lindseth says he’s rocked a different lineup every day through the first three games.
“They’re all fitting in their own way and we want to figure it out for playoffs but also let some kids get some reps to get ready for the next school season. Summer is all about the development but winning is nice too. If you can do both in the summer, it’s a perfect world.”
Rock Ridge continued in the Ely Legion Classic on Saturday with games against Sacred Heart and Hermantown. They’ll close out tournament play today when they take on Ely at 4:15 p.m.