Esko (18-6) vs. Norwood-Young America (23-2)

  • What: Class AA Softball State Tournament Quarterfinal
  • When: 9 a.m. Thursday, June 6
  • (Semifinals, 5 p.m., consolation semifinals, 7 p.m., Thursday, June 6; finals, Friday, June 7)
  • Where: Caswell Park, North Mankato

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Despite having qualified for the state softball tournament four years in a row, Dea DeLeon admitted she couldn't give out the driving directions to North Mankato.

"I like my sleep," said the Esko teenager before boarding their team bus Wednesday, June 5.

Yet, it's DeLeon and the Eskomos who you can't sleep on because for the fourth consecutive spring, Esko will enter the state softball tournament when they clash with Norwood-Young America in a 9 a.m. Class AA state quarterfinal Thursday, June 6, at Caswell Park.

"It doesn't get old," said DeLeon, who had three hits, knocked in two runs and scored a run herself to help the Eskomos ease by Proctor 8-1 in last week's Section 7AA final and return to seemingly their second home in North Mankato.

"As a team, we've very blessed - just very fortunate," he said. "Not everyone gets to go."

In fact, the top-seeded Raiders (23-2) are making their school's state tournament debut after Norwood-Young America ousted the defending Class AA champion, Maple Lake, twice in the Section 5AA final.

Still, the unseeded Eskomos (18-6) aren't fazed, having begun the season 1-3 only to finish 17-3 and head southbound. That has mainly been fueled by put-it-in-play pitching and a deadening defense of playmakers. Such was the scene last week, by making play after play against Proctor.

"We always tell them, 'Don't be afraid to make an error,'" fourth-year coach Huff Emanuel said. "We've always established that confidence in all of them."

"If somebody makes a mistake, we bounce back," DeLeon said. "We just work really hard and support each other."

If that continues, Esko could contend in a field that will crown and new champion by the end of the week. And, the Eskomos' experience on the state's grandest stage can't be overlooked.

"We're going to go down there like we've been there before and run the joint," Emanuel said. "There's only eight double-A schools left and we're one of them. That's a beautiful thing."

"We know the ropes," DeLeon said of North Mankato. "I think that gives us the advantage."