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Eskomos aim for conference championship

Esko junior Ryan Bourgeault throws a pitch to catcher Nick Emanuel during Friday’s home game against Hermantown. Although the Eskomos lost 6-5, the team remains undefeated in the Polar League Conference. Sharon Lahti/news@pinejournal.com 1 / 3
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The Esko baseball team is closing in on its third straight Polar League championship — and has found that a difficult non-conference schedule has helped them along the way.

Two losses — 6-5 to Hermantown last Friday and 7-4 to Hibbing on May 16 — have Ben Haugen’s team at 10-6, but 6-0 in the Polar League.

Junior Ryan Bourgeault pitched against the Hawks and allowed six hits and struck out four in six innings. Reid Davidson had two hits and an RBI while Tyler Peterson and Brody Kaldahl added two hits apiece.

“Playing bigger schools helps us, but really the Polar League is a good measure of our team,” Haugen said. “Three titles in a row is a good accomplishment.”

The team must beat Moose Lake-Willow River in its final conference game to complete the trifecta.

The undefeated Polar League season means the Eskomos should get the first seed in the upcoming Section 7A south subsection.

“Right now we are seeded first but the last two losses we had set us back in terms of overall record,” Haugen said. “It’s a good mix of teams that are in our section. Moose Lake is good, Two Harbors has a good team and South Ridge is having a nice season, too. If you can get out of the league (winning the championship), it’s a good indication you can have a good playoff run.

“It’s between us and Aitkin on our side of the bracket and probably Marshall and Proctor in the other for seeding,” Haugen added. “For us it’s a big deal to be seeded in a good position, because having a favorable first matchup in double elimination is good.”

The Eskomos are still fairly young. Five sophomores start for the team.

“Right now we have five contributing and four more who could play but for older players,” Haugen said “We have lots of talent at the sophomore level. They are doing big things — playing key positions, pitching and hitting in the middle of the order.”

The sophomore class is the core of the Esko Little League team which nearly reached the Little League World Series three years ago.

“They were one game away back then, so these kids do have big game experience and they are good players,” Haugen said. “They’ve exceeded my expectations.

“We have a good mix of seniors too,” Haugen added. “Nick Emanuel is a four-year starter at catcher, Cole Litsey and Derek Peterson have played as sophomores, and we have a nice mix.”

Haugen would like to see his team play more consistently, particularly in clutch situations.

“Lately we haven’t been playing bad baseball,” he said. “But we aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary which would help us beat a bigger team. We feel we could have beaten both Hermantown and Hibbing but we couldn’t get a big hit.”

As a result, Tuesday’s practice was focused on situational hitting.

The section tournament begins May 31, with games at either Proctor’s Terry Egerdahl Field or Duluth’s Wade Stadium. A No. 1 seed would send the Eskomos to Proctor while a second seed would probably send them to Duluth.

“Defensively we have done well,” Haugen said. “We throw strikes, hit the ball top to bottom, but we need to get the young kids that experience. We can only hope they will be juniors rather than sophomores come playoff time.”

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