Eskomos charge into championship
Esko and Duluth Marshall entered the Section 7AA baseball game Tuesday, June 5, as the lone undefeated teams. Earlier in the tournament, the Eskomos knocked off Rush City, Moose Lake-Willow River and Two Harbors, while the Hilltoppers downed Mesabi East, Eveleth-Gilbert and Mora.
In the end, it was the Eskomos who managed to sneak one run across and earn a 1-0 victory, sending the Hilltoppers into the losers bracket.
"Wow! All I can say is 'Wow!'" Esko coach Ben Haugen exclaimed after the game. "What a game and what a performance by both pitchers."
Haugen was talking about the efforts of Eskomo senior pitcher Brody Kaldahl and junior Ben Pederson of Marshall. The two were nothing short of magnificent the entire game with Kaldahl doing his best to put to bed the ghosts of last year's 2-1 loss in the semifinals to Pederson and the Hilltoppers.
The lone run of the game came when the Eskomos managed to map together three hits in a row with two outs in the fourth inning. Peyton Koskela eventually scored when Brandon Matteen singled off the flame-throwing Pederson, who has already committed to play at Division I Missouri.
"We have faced him (Pederson) twice in the last two seasons and he is something," Haugen said of Pederson. "Brody (Kaldahl) put us on his shoulders and he was incredible."
The game was a coach's dream, as both teams played clean defense and flashed leather when it counted most. No play was bigger than a diving catch in left field by Esko outfielder Koskela in the seventh inning on a soft line drive that came off Pederson's bat.
"That was a huge play for us," said an excited Haugen after the game. "That catch was big because after we got the first out, Marshall ended up with two runners on and had Peyton not made that catch, the game would have been tied with them having two runners on and a chance to win it with no one out."
At this point, it was do-or-die time for the Eskomo ace. Kaldahl calmly proceeded to strike out back-to-back batters to end the threat and to end the game.
Following the 1-0 Eskomo win, the Hilltoppers faced a good Mora team and Marshall came away with a 2-0 win. The Hilltopper win means fans will get another chance to watch Esko and Marshall do battle in the championship Thursday, June 7, at 5 p.m. at Wade Stadium, with a second game to be played if necessary.