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  • Mesabi Tribune

    Rock Ridge VFW splits season opener with Hermantown

    By By Ben Romsaas Mesabi Tribune,

    2024-06-12

    VIRGINIA—The Rock Ridge VFW baseball team got off to a solid start on Tuesday in their season opener, taking down Hermantown 9-4 in the first game before falling 5-0 in the five-inning nightcap.

    While Hermantown Post 137 got the early jump on Post 1172 in the opener, Rock Ridge took a commanding lead in the third with a five-run inning. After Hermantown cut the lead down to one in the fifth inning, Rock Ridge responded with a four-run sixth inning that put the game away.

    Post 1172 starter Blake Bailey struggled initially in the first inning, giving up back-to-back walks to start the game. After a single to shallow right field from Jimmy Bartsch, the bases were loaded up.

    Bailey earned a strikeout against Cam Lukovsky but the lead runner came in to score on a fielder’s choice the play after. After surrendering another walk to load up the bases again, Rock Ridge got out of the inning with a routine play in the infield to keep the damage to a minimum, 1-0.

    Hermantown starter Bryce Lundeen only gave up a lone hit and a walk over the first two innings, but Bailey was able to match him to keep things close. In the bottom of third, the Rock Ridge offense found their groove.

    At the bottom of the order, Rory Scuffy got things moving with a leadoff single to center field. After Owen Hallin took a walk, the bases were loaded when Cal Scott etched a bunt single.

    With the three-hitter Connor Saxhaug at the plate, 1172 was ready to score and Saxhaug delivered, singling up the middle to score two runs while giving his team the lead.

    Rock Ridge continued to roll when Aiden Bird reached on an error that allowed another run in. Next, Jake Coombe singled up the middle for another run and one more came in not long after on a sacrifice fly from Bailey, 5-1.

    Saxhaug came in to pitch starting in the fourth inning for Rock Ridge and Hermantown started chipping away at the deficit. A single to Vaun Kukowski, a single to Lundeen and a walk to Ethan McCubbin loaded up the bases with one out and a run came in to score when Bartsch etched the infield single, 5-2.

    Lukovsky made it 5-3 on a sacrifice fly but Rock Ridge held onto the lead and got out of the inning.

    Hermantown’s Jacob Evanson took over for Lundeen starting in the fourth and put Post 1172 down in order to start things off.

    In the fifth, Saxhaug got a quick fly out to left to start the inning, but after giving up a single to Zach Bostrom and a walk to Kukowski, he exited the game with Coombe taking over on the mound.

    A sacrifice bunt from Lundeen moved the batters over and a run came in to score off an RBI single to right from McCubbin. But as close as Post 137 was able to make it, Rock Ridge never surrendered the lead.

    Evanson held off the 1172 in the fifth inning, as did Coombe in the sixth, but Rock Ridge came up with a big bottom of the sixth inning to help secure the win.

    Jaxon Lamppa fetched on a fielder’s choice and came around to score when Scuffy doubled to center, 6-4. A walk to Hallin and an error benefitting Scott loaded up the bases and one more run came in when Saxhaug singled up the left side, 7-4.

    With two outs later in the inning, a single to left from Coombe scored a pair of runners, giving Rock Ridge the 9-4 cushion heading into the top of the seventh.

    Things looked dicey when two runners reached with only one out on the board, but Post 1172 turned a 5-4-3 double play to end the contest and secure the win.

    After the game, Rock Ridge VFW head coach Paula Coombe said his team got off to a bit of a slow start at the plate, but it ended up being smooth sailing once they got loose.

    “We got the bats rolling finally,” Coombe said. “When it started rolling, it was like a sickness. It didn’t go away. It helped us out tremendously.”

    In the second game, Logan Haverkamp got the start for Rock Ridge and looked solid early, getting out of a jam in the first and making short work of Hermantown in the second and third. Haverkamp left the game in the top of the fourth, leaving a runner on first and second with Caz Carlson coming on in relief.

    Carlson got a strikeout to start his night but, with runners on second and third, an infield error let the lead run in. After a routine second out, two more runs came in on a Lundeen single to center, 3-0.

    A combination of an error and two doubles to left in the top of the fifth inning brought another pair of runs home for Hermantown and the Rock Ridge offense couldn’t get anything going as they ended the day with a split, 5-0.

    Utilizing four pitchers over the course of two games, Coombe said he was pleased overall with what he saw.

    “We wanted to get some reps in for the kids that have their arm strength built up from this spring. We have one kid that hadn’t been out in spring ball but he came in and pitched really well today too. For the most part, our pitching was top notch I thought today.”

    With the VFW team being largely made up of this past spring season’s high school freshmen and sophomores, Coombe knows there’s a lot of room for growth still. Considering the rest of the VFW district, he thinks the team should be looking to compete well this season.

    “I’ve been coaching this group of kids the whole way up. They’ve had numerous coaches that are really good baseball guys. So we’ve got a group of ninth and 10th graders that really know how to run the bases and they just know how to play baseball.

    “They’ve been taught the right way and we’re just trying to keep that instilled in them and we feel that we have a pretty good team here. We’re happy to be out here and I don’t think we have any bad attitudes in the dugout. It’s a really good group of kids, a lot of fun.”

    With the team rostering 16 players on Tuesday, the lineup from the second game was nearly an entire new squad compared to the first. Having such high participation numbers at this level makes playing double headers worth it according to Coombe.

    “It’s a benefit to have this many kids out. If we were only going to have one game every time we play someone, then there’d be kids who wouldn’t be able to get as many opportunities. Yes, we want to win every game but with two games we know everyone is going to get their reps and have a chance.

    “If you don’t get the start in the first game, you’ll be out there for game two. Those reps get their confidence levels up and that’s what you need. Over the years, some kids may surprise you and they’ll never get the chance if they don’t get their reps too.”

    Rock Ridge will be back in action Monday when they travel to Superior and on Tuesday when they host Cloquet.

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