From where Blake Eller was last year with the College of St. Scholastica Saints baseball team, to where he is now, is a world apart.
As a sophomore Eller suffered a pulled hamstring, the first significant injury of his sports career, in the 13th game of the season, forcing him to sit and watch from the dugout for much of the rest of the season.
"Before that injury I never sat out for more than a game," Eller said. "It was really tough to go through. It was hard to just sit on the bench and cheer and do other little assistant-type stuff."
Now a junior, the former Brainerd Warrior standout is making up for lost time and is putting together an MVP-type season.
Eller leads the Saints, who are 30-6 and ranked 27th in the latest NCAA Division III poll, with a .443 batting average. He leads the team with 51 hits, 52 runs scored, 11 triples, 92 total bases, a .538 on-base percentage and .800 slugging percentage. Eller is second on the team with 44 RBIs and has struck out only six times in 115 at bats.
Former Brainerd standout Blake Eller rounded third and headed for home in a game recently for the College of St. Scholastica Saints.
"I started pretty well in the winter and in practice because we face some really good, live pitching in the cage," said Eller, "So by the time I even have a live at bat I'm pretty comfortable at the plate. I got hot down in Florida and it's rolled on to the rest of the season."
Probably the gaudiest of Eller's stats are his 11 triples. During the winter he was taken aside by Saints coaches and told to start hitting into the gaps more. He's done just that and it's paid off.
"I worked out a lot in the offseason and I put on some more muscle and I'm hitting the ball harder," Eller said. "When I hit the ball into a gap I can tell right away if it's a triple. Then I just use my speed and work hard to get over to third base."
The key to Eller's success has been that he's healthy and on the field. To rehab his hamstring, Eller lifted weights an hour a day, five times a week during the summer. He'd then head to the track at Adamson Field in Brainerd, run sprints and jog.
"Since I started rehabbing my leg and lifting weights and running, I haven't had a single problem," said Eller.
His rise on the Saints' roster wasn't totally unexpected since the talent was always there. It boiled down to just getting on the playing field. Once he did that, Eller excelled.
"I expect a lot out of myself so I put a lot of pressure on myself," he said. "We don't really look at stats much because our coach has a different system. He judges us by quality at bats, whether that means you get a walk or hit the ball hard, and I'm pretty high up on that list.
"What's surprised me most are my power numbers because that's never really been a big part of my game. I'm just working hard to stay where I'm at."
College: St. Scholastica
Major: Management and marketing
College of St. Scholastica
Eller also has familiar faces around him. Former Brainerd players Chad Weiss and Adian Kummet play for the Saints, as does Eller's brother, Grant.
Weiss is a senior who pitches, plays outfield and leads off. Kummet is a sophomore and one of the top pitchers on the staff while Grant is a sophomore reserve outfielder.
"It's pretty fun to be here with my brother and the other guys from Brainerd," Eller said. "The whole team is like we're a bunch of brothers but having those guys from home around gives you more of a comfort zone.
"It's nice to have some guys to talk about Brainerd basketball games or to talk about old stories from back home."
TROY GUNDERSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5865.
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