With the schedule Jim Karnas had this week with his pair of Esko American Legion teams, it was impressive the baseball coach was available for an interview.
Karnas coached his squads against Brookston, traveled to Proctor and hosted Aitkin, not to mention welcoming in Cloquet on Thursday, July 11, at 6 p.m. and then traveling northbound for the mid-summer Ely tournament July 12-14.
That’s baseball Monday through Sunday — literally — for the 37-year-old and his coaching staff.
“It’s a grind,” said Karnas, also assisted by Greg Anderson and Jordan Balow in coaching the Esko Senior and Junior Legion clubs. “But it’s fun when you’re on the field.”
That certainly was the case this week, as a the Esko Juniors (ages 17 and under) played a pair of games, while the Esko Seniors (ages 19 and under) took to the diamond five days. That’s quite the week for a pair of squads sporting about just a baker’s dozen games between them this wet summer.
Their most recent action prior to press time Wednesday, July 10, was a 5-2 win for the Esko Seniors at Proctor Tuesday, July 9, with pitcher Hunter Sunde picking up the complete-game victory. Sunde, a senior next fall, allowed just one earned run, struck out a half-dozen and ended the game on a pick-off to second base, just after his 98th pitch.
Sunde is a part of a gifted group of ball players in Esko, including teammates Noah Furcht, Dawson Hoffman, Peyton Koskela, Josh Bolgrean, Eli Erickson and the over-the-fence hitting James LeGarde, who had a handful of home runs last spring.
In fact, Esko — and all of the players named above — made it back to the Section 7AA championship game last spring for a second straight season, only to lose again to reigning title holder Duluth Marshall, this year’s Class AA state champs.
On top of that, the Esko Senior Legion was the Division II district runners-up the past two summers, falling short to Proctor in 2017 and Pierz in 2018.
“We’ve been so close, just one step short,” said Karnas of their high school and summer ball streaks. “I hope we’re back in the same situation again and we can make it to the state tournament. I’m hoping they can break through.”
To do so, the Esko Seniors would have to advance through their preliminary Division II district tournament July 19-21, and then be the last team standing in the district finals July 26-28 in Marble.
Yet, with their recent track record, one wouldn’t be advised to count out Karnas and his diamond crew.
“It’s a good group of kids,” Karnas said. “We just have to play our type of game. We’ve been in big games before. If we can get on a run, we can beat anybody.”
And despite being as busy as anybody this summer, Karnas highlighted that Esko will also host the Junior Legion district tournament July 28-31.
Just more baseball for a guy in a dugout every night this week.