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Esko softball rallies in championship game to defeat Rebels

Esko softball players celebrate with 8th grader Dea DeLeon (left, in helmet) after she scored the winning run on teammate Kristy DeMuth's hit in the Section 7AA Championship game at Braun Park vs. Moose Lake/Willow River on Thursday. Dave Harwig/

CLOQUET ― Just one week earlier, Esko scored two runs in the final inning to edge Moose Lake-Willow River in a Section 7AA high school softball playoff game.

So when the top-seeded Eskomos entered the bottom of the seventh trailing the Rebels by a single run in the section final Thursday at Braun Park, players were confident they could accomplish the feat again.

Mission accomplished.

The Eskomos scored two runs, capped by eighth-grader Kristy DeMuth’s game-winning single that scored fellow eighth-grader Dea DeLeon with one out, in an 8-7 victory. Esko (16-5) advances to play LeSueur-Henderson in a Class AA quarterfinal at 9 a.m. next Thursday at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Minn.

“All the way through our lineup, one through nine, I have confidence in each and every one of them,” Esko coach Jeff Emanuel said. “Even at the end, I wasn’t nervous with an eighth-grader up to bat. It doesn’t surprise me that she came through, it really doesn’t.”

DeMuth was 2-for-3, while sophomore Davrianna Horvath had three hits, including two doubles, and drove in two runs. Horvath singled to lead off the decisive inning and Ashley Pollema drove in the game-tying run to set the stage for DeMuth.

“It’s a great feeling to go to state and bring our seniors there,” DeMuth said.

Esko, which entered the day undefeated in the double-elimination tournament, led 6-2 and seemed it would stroll into the state tournament for the first time since 2007. But the Rebels (20-5), who have gone 34 years since last appearing at state when they won the 1982 Class A crown, rallied to score five runs in the fifth and take a 7-6 lead.

“We got down on ourselves, but we had hope we could come back and win,” DeMuth said. “We’ve done it before and we thought we could do it again.”

They only needed to remember one week back when they send MLWR into the loser’s bracket with that 3-2 come-from-behind victory.

“You can never stop, just keep working and keep going,” Horvath said.

Jamie Benzie led the Rebels with three hits, including a double, and two RBIs.

Rebels coach Kelly Goeb was not disheartened by the result. She was pleased with her team’s resilience and fighting attitude.

“We couldn’t quite hold on at the end of the game. It would have been nice to have a couple more runners score earlier in the game, but that’s the way it goes,” Goeb said. “I would rather have it end as a hard-fought, well-played game than to have them blown out. We played with all our hearts and did the best that we could.”