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Esko's Austin Carlson tries to tag out an International Falls runner on a pickoff play during Tuesday's American Legion baseball game in Esko. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

Esko Legion endures early losses

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Esko Legion endures early losses
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As cold as Tuesday evening was for a late June summer league baseball doubleheader, perhaps the coldest beginning to the American Legion season so far has been for Esko.


The Esko boys endured a pair of 6-1 and 6-5 losses to International Falls on a wet, windy, low-50-degree day, marking the home team’s fourth and fifth straight defeats in a season with only one win in their first six games.

“We’ve been struggling,” admitted Matt Bolgrean, a senior first baseman for Esko, which has its lone victory against Brookston. “Last year (in VFW) we were blowing teams away, but it’s not going that way so far. We’re just not clicking right now. We just haven’t been able to find it yet.”

Finding the loss column on the mound Tuesday were pitchers Derek Peterson and Nick Legarde.

Esko itself hasn’t had their own Legion program for several years, but with growing numbers across the board — including a VFW and two junior-level teams this summer — the decision to field a squad served the right purpose.

Although the VFW, coached by Jake Olson, only has 12 players, and the Legion, coached by Brad Emanuel, has 11, Esko has hung in there by bouncing several kids between the two.

That, on top of morning basketball, hockey and weight lifting, according to Emanuel, has been a lot to manage for his ball players. He said, like any kid would, they can get tired.

“It happens everywhere,” Emanuel said of busy summers, including baseball games next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

“It’s unusual for us to start as slow as we have, as we’re usually pretty good out of the chute,” Emanuel explained. “But there is a ton of baseball left — they’ll come around.”

In Carlton County there are Legion clubs from Cloquet, coached by Dennis Conklin Sr.; Moose Lake, headed by Jim Ryan; and Brookston, led by Travis Paulson. Carlton meanwhile, according to high school Athletic Director Ryan Schmidt, has only a junior team in Duluth, as in years past.

Looking at the past is keeping Esko junior pitcher and shortstop Cole Litsey optimistic, as he said a year ago on the VFW, they got hot and nearly made it to the state tournament.

“It’s been pretty slow,” said Litsey of their team’s lack in batting, defense and the ability to throw strikes, including himself. “But last year, we really came together at the end.”

Bolgrean, too, is confident, despite having basketball every morning and weight lifting three days a week.

“Days are long,” he said. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll get this thing turned back around, like that.”