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Proctor Rails begin baseball season

Proctor is the two-time defending Section 7AA champion in baseball, and the Rails took home third place in last year's state Class AA tournament.

However, Thursday, May 2, was the first time the Rails were able to conduct an outdoor practice due to the prolonged winter weather. Just in time for opening day.

After nine canceled games, the Rails were finally able to begin their season on Friday, May 3, with a 9-1 non-conference win over the Moose Lake-Willow River (ML-WR) Rebels. The Moose Lake High School field had snow banks in foul ground and along the outfield fence. There was a light mist throughout the game and the temperature was 34 degrees at game time.

"It was only fitting that our first game was played under these conditions," said Proctor coach Kyle Wojtysiak.

On the mound for the Rails was senior Ben Nelson, a University of St. Thomas recruit. Nelson was the Duluth News Tribune's co-All-Area Player of the Year in 2012, an honor he shared with his Proctor teammate and fellow pitcher Jake Lewis, who is now a freshman hurler for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Nelson threw six shutout innings for the win and was not touched for a hit until the fifth inning, but he did walk three and hit one batter. Those are not particularly high numbers, but still uncharacteristic for Nelson, who has walked just 33 batters in 147.1 career innings pitched for Proctor. His career mark of 1.57 walks per seven innings is a school record.

"(The) game went well, but I could not find a good grip on the ball so I didn't have my best stuff," said Nelson. Despite the delayed start to the season and bone-chilling temperatures, Nelson was able to retire 10 batters in a row between the second and fifth innings. He also accumulated eight strikeouts and became the 10th pitcher in school history to surpass 100 career strikeouts. "Ben battled through the elements.

He took some time to settle in but found his groove in the middle innings," Wojtysiak said.

Nelson allowed two hits, but both resulted in Rebels runners getting thrown out on the bases. In the fifth inning, Teddy Ryan beat the throw to first base on a ground ball up the middle for a single, but Jesse Gronfors, trying to score from second base, was tagged out at home plate on a relay throw from first baseman Matt Dolsen. Jake Christopherson smashed a two-out double to left field with the bases empty in the sixth, but was thrown out at third base in an attempt to stretch the hit into a triple.

Evan Scherber led off the third inning with a single for Proctor's first hit of the season. Scherber then scored from first base on an RBI double by Nelson to give the Rails a 1-0 lead.

Nelson, who had advanced to third base on the throw to home plate on Scherber's run, scored on an RBI groundout by Paul Hegstrom for a

2-0 lead.

Ryan was the losing pitcher, but ML-WR trailed by just the two runs when he was replaced to start the seventh inning. He allowed four hits, three walks and two hit batsmen in six innings. He had five strikeouts.

Proctor faced three relievers and sent 11 batters to the plate in the seventh inning as their 2-0 lead was expanded to 9-0. Jimmy Merrill delivered a pinch-hit single for two RBIs, and Nelson contributed a two-run single in the inning.

ML-WR scored an unearned run off of Dolsen in the seventh.

Nelson was 2-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs. "It was nice to get out on the field for the first time. I wish it would have been warmer, but it was a good game to get under our belts for the busy upcoming weeks," he said.

"We did many things well for it being the first game, but we will have to shore up some mental lapses to remain competitive with games being stacked up from here on out," said Wojtysiak.