It was only fitting for his 18th birthday Tuesday that Cloquet's Nate O'Hara hit a home run.
O'Hara's three-run blast over the left field fence came during the seventh inning of an eventual 17-11 Lumberjack rally to beat host Esko — followed by a 7-4 home win over Superior — serving as the brightest highlight of a marathon day of baseball for Cloquet.
In a game that was just nine runs short of equalling last fall's football score between the pair of neighboring schools, the Lumberjacks rallied by the Eskomos, taking advantage of their opponents' mistakes and miscues and evaporating a once 11-9 deficit entering the seventh and final inning.
"We gave them an eight spot," said Esko Coach Ben Haugen of the last inning of a contest which he said included a multitude of walks, hit batters, errors, debatable calls and even a balk. "It was an interesting game — we saw a lot of goofy things you just don't see everyday."
"It wasn't a very well played game on either side," added Cloquet Coach Rick Norrgard as the team hustled back from Esko to Ed Mettner Field to face Superior just 15 minutes after arriving.
Speaking of doubleheaders, the Eskomos (10-5), too, played twice Tuesday. Not having sweeping success like the Lumberjacks (7-4), Esko lost earlier in the day to Hermantown 8-3 in a game where the hosts again struggled with big innings, allowing four runs to the Hawks in the top of the first.
Haugen said strong-pitching junior Derek Pantsar took both losses on the day, as the starter against Hermantown and reliever against Cloquet. At the plate, classmate Aaron Olson hit two home runs and had six runs batted in himself in game two, while sophomore Nick Emanuel had a homer in game one.
"We saw a little of everything," Haugen continued of the 39-run, more-than- four-hour day of ball. "We can't afford to walk guys and make errors, but we saw some positives."
On the topic of positives, Cloquet's O'Hara — who finished the game 3-for-5 with a double and four RBIs on top of his third career homer — had a day to remember, as did his teammates.
"It was a long day of baseball," admitted junior Brandon Conklin, who pitched two innings of relief in earning the win at Esko, before catching the whole game with Superior during a win on the combined pitching efforts of sophomores' Gabe Sorenson and the victor, Jeremy Bushey.
Walking out of a darkened park afterward, Norrgard said his team is busy — scheduled for six games this week not including two that were rained out Monday — but said they're gaining experience and momentum from the all the innings.
"Coach says we're like a snowball," said Conklin, who recorded multiple hits on the day. "We're getting bigger and bigger and better and better."
"The good thing is the guys are getting a lot of at-bats," Norrgard said. "The hardest part is managing the pitching."
O’Hara agreed. It’s something the senior first baseman admitted he wouldn't be good at even if called upon during a long stretch of games.
"Coach would probably want to pick somebody else," O'Hara said with a laugh. "I'd do it, but I don't know what would happen."
Perhaps he'll just stick with hitting home runs on his birthday.
"I got a pretty sweet birthday present," he said.
Moose Lake-Willow River wasn't given a present when having to take Tuesday off. Due to previously scheduled school activities, the Rebels (7-3) — winners of four straight — didn't play games on the nicest day yet, boasting 75-degrees with sunny skies.
"Sadly it was an unplayable day for us," said ML-WR Coach Matt Niedzielski.
"We had an amazing practice, though," he said, with a laugh.
Practicing on Moose Lake's field hasn't been a problem, but due to the newly planted sod, games have been limited. According to Niedzielski, the Rebels' only game at home was last Friday's 4-3 victory over Pine City, although Niedzielski admitted the park is shaping up pretty nicely.
"It's turning from a sandlot to ballpark,” Niedzielski said. "It's going to be a nice place to watch a game."
Like ML-WR, winning games has been common for Barnum (6-2), as the Bombers have been victorious in their past four contests, including a 6-4 edging of South Ridge (5-4) Saturday on the road.
The Panthers, meanwhile, whacked Wrenshall 11-5 Tuesday in Culver, taking over a game led early by the Wrens. Senior Kody Karppinen pitched the Panthers to victory Tuesday, while classmate Dominic Lisic and sophomore Reid Clark had multiple hits.
Wrenshall (2-4) was guided by junior duo John Smith and Devin Adams, who each batted in a pair of runs against the Panthers. However, Wrenshall battered one-win McGregor-Cromwell-Wright (1-9) for their only wins of the season last Wednesday Braun Park in Cloquet. The doubleheader victories — the first of which was completed after a rain delay cut the game short earlier this spring — with scores of 7-6, then 15-5, highlight a program that is back to varsity baseball for just its second year.
"Those were really nice wins," said Wrens Coach Doug Frank Tuesday night. "It doesn't show in the win column, but these kids are trying hard and playing hard."
The game played in McGregor Tuesday was hard to fathom. Carlton Coach Ryan Schmidt explained how his Bulldogs scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the Mercuries, only later to win the game in extra innings when piling up 10 runs in the ninth inning for a 17-9 victory.
The win was just the second of the season for a young Carlton (2-7) team, and it was their highest game total and single-inning scoring output of the spring.
"We finally got some big hits when we needed them," said Schmidt after returning home on the beautiful evening. "I guess we weren't ready to get off the field just yet."