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Ellsworth nine begins season with 11-1 win

Ellsworth Eric McGregor (No. 46) receives a congratulatory tap from teammate Brady Yanisch (No. 10) at home plate after hitting a three-run homer against St. Croix Central at Brown Field in Hager City.2 / 4
Ellsworth's Dennis Schultz crosses home plate.3 / 4
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HAGER CITY - The performance of the Ellsworth High School baseball team didn't surprise head coach Steve Block in the aftermath of an 11-1 season opening win Monday over St. Croix Central at Brown Field. 

"We need more work outside that's for sure," Block said. "We need to sharpen up. Of course, we went from indoors to outdoors right away and we have new players in new positions so you're going to have those mistakes. But at least all the other teams are dealing with the same problem."

Given that equalizer Ellsworth is still going to come out ahead as they showed Monday against SCC. A three-run homer by left fielder Eric McGregor into center punctuated an eight-run first inning for the Purple. McGregor had three RBIs for the game while teammate Dennis Schutz had two. Dan Giese led Ellsworth with three hits while McGregor and Schutz each had two. Spencer Schroeder was the winning pitcher. 

These players are four of a cast of 11 returning lettermen who've played on two back-to-back sectional champions. EHS also won the Middle Border Conference title last season and played again in the state tournament in Appleton, finishing with a 16-4 record. Departed from that team are pitcher James Georgakas, Chandler Flynn, Tyler Marson and catcher Tyler Koller. Georgakas and Flynn were all-conference selections last season. Returning All-MBC players include Schutz, junior Nick Taranto and senior Isaac Hines. Senior Logan Armstrong received honorable mention.

The returning players, especially the returning starters, will be the leverage the Panthers will use early on until the younger and less experienced players get up to speed. EHS returns the left side of its infield in Armstrong at third and Taranto at shortstop. The entire outfield is back with McGregor, a junior in leftfield and three-year starters Schutz and Giese and center and rightfield respectively. Ellsworth's returning pitchers are Hines, a senior; junior Brady Yanisch and Schroeder, who is a sophomore. McGregor, Armstrong and junior Mike Koch can also pitch for the Panthers.

The right side of the infield will be new with senior Luke Sterry, Koch and junior Jonah Conway as the new catcher.

"As Jonah, Luke and Mike gain experience and we continued to have success as a team their confidence will grow," Block said. "In time they will become solid players on defense in our batting order as well. The first four to five spots in the line-up are the same as last year but it's the remaider that's going make us a strong hitting team which we're counting on."

The preseason rankings say Ellsworth is one of the best teams in the state in Division 2, No. 2 in fact. Block says the ranking is accurate only in potential more so than in actual play.

"We're way overranked right now," Block said. "But the potential is there of course. It's a solid team with a great outfield, good team speed and arm strenghth and hitting as well if it reaches that potential."

Block believes the Panthers will be tested from a competitive Middle Border Conference schedule and from a strong sectional field, including Viroqua, West Salem and Altoona. 

"Prescott and New Richmond are obviously up there but so's Durand, Amery and Somerset. In fact, every team has a got a good pitcher and some good players. We'll be in the hunt for the league title but we'll have to earn it. We've gotten our program to the point where we have high expectations of what we can accomplish. We're not arrogant about those expectations but we're not afraid of them either. It will be up to the leadership of our upperclassmen and returning lettermen to make sure everyone on the team is on board with those expectations

Ellsworth is Lake City this afternoon and hosts its first MBC contest Thursday against New Richmond, also at Brown Field in Hager City.