Eskomos earn fourth at state

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Mac Holland is the Esko softball team's leadoff hitter for good reason. The senior is smart, quick and more often than not gets on base.
And that's exactly what the sparkplug did last Thursday on a sun-filled afternoon; the speedy senior slashed a single, later scored and started what would become an eventual game-winning first inning for the Eskomos over heavily-favored Pipestone Area in a Class AA state softball quarterfinal.
The one-loss Arrows, seeded third and one of the potential picks to win it all at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Minn., rode the arm of junior Shelby Bloemendaal all spring. But it was unranked Esko which earned three runs in the top of the first inning to ease any nerves in its second straight trip to state.
Hits by Holland, junior Davriana Horvath and a two-run homer by classmate Ashley Pollema were plenty for Esko's right-handed ace, Emilee Wilson, who tossed a complete-game four-hitter with 13 strikeouts. She also homered in the top of the sixth over the centerfield fence for good measure.
"She's a pit bull — she will not ever give that ball up unless I yank if from her," said coach Huff Emanuel. "She threw the best game I think I'd ever seen her throw. It was unbelievable.
"We only had to make eight plays behind her," he continued about their 4-0 shutout victory. "That makes it pretty easy."
To put it in perspective, in Pipestone Area's 28 games this spring, they had scored double digits 15 times. The Arrows actually scored 23 runs in this state tournament, yet none versus the Eskomos.
While they prevailed against the Arrows, the same couldn't be said against their semifinal foe, Zumbrota-Mazeppa, who eventually held onto their title in becoming Class AA's two-time defending champions.
The Cougars, who scored 22 runs in the tournament, plated runners in all but one inning against the Eskomos, winning 9-4. While they whacked out 11 hits on Wilson, Esko — in a reverse image of game one — struck out 13 times.
That's not to say they didn't have chances, as the Eskomos earned nine walks, but stranded nine runners.
"We easily could have been playing in that state championship game," Emanuel said. "And we want to be on the top of that road."
Esko (22-5) eventually lost 9-2 in the third-place game last Friday against Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, the same team that ousted them 8-2 in last year's state consolation semifinals.
Nonetheless, their 1-2 mark was an improvement on a season ago.
"We took a baby step to get there last year and took another little baby step this year," said Emanuel, now 2-for-2 in state tournament trips as a second-year head coach. "The girls get the credit for the wins and I'll take credit for the losses. They sure make (me) look good."
"We were determined to do better than last year. And even with the two losses, getting fourth was beyond amazing," added Holland, the team's shortstop and on the varsity for now six seasons. "These years have been the time of my life."
For Holland, one of eight seniors on Emanuel's roster, it was the highest she had ever finished on the diamond. She now trades in her cleats for a lab coat, as she'll head to the University of North Dakota next fall to begin her major in biology within the school's pre-med program.
Yet, when asked if she'll make the journey down to North Mankato again if the Eskomos happen to advance for a third consecutive spring, Holland was quick to answer.
"Definitely," she said. "They're all my teammates and they forever will be."
Likely returning home next May herself, Holland added she'd like to help the team any way she could. Although she was honest when saying she likely wouldn't be much of a factor against Wilson in a year's time.
"I've faced her and yes, it's scary," she said. "And, I think I'll be a little bit rusty by then."
Who knows, though? She was the leadoff hitter for good reason, remember. Just like the first at-bat of last week's state tournament, she may rip a single up the middle.
"She hit .500," said Emanuel of Holland. "Those seniors are clutch. And they'll be real tough to replace."