ELLSWORTH — Playing a condensed schedule due to the ongoing pandemic, the Ellsworth Hubbers are taking the adversity that came with it in stride. With only nine regular season games on the summer slate, the team will take all it can get to build experience with its younger players.
“We have a bunch of young guys and we’ve faced college-level pitching,” Hubbers manager Jeremiah Paulson said. “Sometimes that puts a 17-, 18-year-old kid against a college junior. It’s decent ball at the high school level, but there’s only a handful of those guys that go on.
“So now you’re looking at playing the best players in the conference and only them. We’ve got to learn and I think I’ve got a pretty decent little group.”
Paulson has built a roster mixed with youth and veterans, pulling from within Ellsworth as well as area towns without an amateur baseball team. He said there are four players on the current roster that were part of the 2018 Ellsworth team that went to the state tournament. There are also some recent or soon-to-be grads on the Hubbers’ roster.
However, just like every town ball team, it’s important to balance the roster with a veteran presence. Not only to ensure the roster has experience on its side when faced with adversity, but also due to the unknowns of whether college players will be able to return year in and year out.
“In this league, if you’re not young and extremely talented, you have to be a little bit veteran and not be shook by situations,” Paulson said. “Life takes you places, too. I had three or four guys that I thought were part of the nucleus, and like I said, life happens.”
Growth coming one game at a time
The team 2-5 at this point, waiting for all of the pieces to align at the same time.
“Probably the biggest thing is, we’ve just haven’t hit real well yet,” Paulson said.
In three of their five losses, the Hubbers were shut out. It hasn’t all been tough sledding for the offense, however. Ellsworth has scored five runs or more in three games as well, so finding consistency on offense is the main concern.
To open the season, Ellsworth defeated New Richmond 6-3. The Hubbers then fell into a five-loss slump, getting outscored 31-7 in that span. The team seems to be on the verge of turning the corner though as the experience piles up.
That was apparent this past weekend when the Hubbers split games against River Falls and Bay City.
In its 8-5 win over Bay City on July 25, the Hubbers racked up 16 hits. Leading Ellsworth offensively were Drake Flom and Ben Fischer with three hits apiece. Mike Koch, Owen Newton and Shane Elsen also had two hits each.
The night before against River Falls, the bats fell silent with only three hits — but the Hubbers were competitive throughout the game.
Ryan McGregor had Ellsworth’s first hit against the Fish in the first inning, but the Hubbers would only get three other baserunners — all via walks — until the ninth inning.
Elsen pitched well to keep Ellsworth in the game while the offense struggled to get in a groove. He pitched all nine innings, striking out four batters and stranding six on base.
River Falls only needed two swings of the bat to do all of its damage, however. Andy Metcalf hit a solo home run in the seventh inning and then struck again with a two-run home run in the ninth inning.
“One guy. He hit a mistake and then he hit a ball that was out of the zone,” Paulson said. “We played good defense, we pitched. Really proud of how we’re growing. Shane’s been throwing for us for two years now and he’s handling good teams like River Falls.”
With games against Prescott and Spring Valley before the start of the St. Croix Valley Baseball League playoffs, Paulson hopes these encouraging signs of late will mean Ellsworth putting everything together when it matters most.
“It just comes down to we got to do a couple little things … it’s a young team,” he said. “The big thing is that we play good defense, we pitch and we hustle.”