Baseball: LeGarde-led Eskomos excelling early
As a catcher who also pitches and plays shortstop for the Esko baseball team, do-it-all James LeGarde is known for his mighty arm strength.
It has been the Eskomo junior's bat that has been doing most of the talking, however.
Amidst a pile of extra-base hits this spring, LeGarde has hammered four home runs in just 13 games — or almost one in every three outings — clearing the fence four-times as much as he did last year in helping pace Esko to an early 9-4 record.
That mark may be surprising to some, being that the Eskomos graduated a laundry list of seniors from last season's squad that finished second in Section 7AA, losing twice in the final to eventual Class AA state runner-up Duluth Marshall.
Not LeGarde, though, one of a plethora of upperclassmen who returned this spring on a mission to prove their worth.
"No one really thought we'd do much this year, but we've used that as fuel," said LeGarde. "We've got some good ball players and we're playing with a lot of confidence right now."
Likely none more than LeGarde, as the 5-foot-11, 155-pounder contributes wherever he plays for coach Ben Haugen and seemingly always packs his bat.
"He's been seeing the ball pretty well and hitting for some power numbers," said Haugen. "He's definitely been leading the charge for us."
"I just try and get a pitch I like and hit a gap shot," added LeGarde of his approach at the dish. "If it goes over the fence, great, but I'm just trying to help my team."
He and his teammates have done just that — and some.
Despite recent setbacks to Superior 7-2 and Hermantown 11-1 last week, so far, Esko's near .700 win percentage ranks amongst the top quarter of an always well-balanced 7AA field.
Still, that position will surely be challenged in the coming days, as the Eskomos enter a nine-day stretch where they play seven games. Include their junior varsity contests — with Esko having just around 20 total players — and that'll turn into 12 games in the coming nine days.
"We've had a pretty good start to the season, but as always, these last two weeks over the last half-dozen years or so, our schedule has been tough," said Haugen. "Everyone from here on out is a good, quality opponent. I like that."
Of their remaining foes, five reside in 7AA, including mighty Marshall, equip with several next-level collegiate prospects.
While the Hilltoppers are looking to defend their crown, the Eskomos are seeking a chance to return to the big game, still remembering what happened a year ago, coming one win shy of the state.
"We've got nothing to lose. We're the underdogs," said LeGarde. "I think people are underestimating us. We've got a lot of guys who can play ball."
Relating him to the likes of former Esko catching standouts Nick Emanuel, Tyler Peterson and Co., Haugen said LeGarde belongs right there. The coach also mentioned sophomore Noah Furcht, a pitcher and shortstop like LeGarde, whose been hitting effectively in the No. 2 hole.
"We have a nice mix. We definitely have some good, young talent," said Haugen. "We're just looking to make another jump here and hopefully prove that we can be in that section final again.
"I'm not counting my chickens before they hatch, as they say," Haugen continued about their busy schedule upcoming. "It's going to be a good test for us."
One LeGarde and his big bat are looking forward to.
"I'm excited to see where we stand," said LeGarde. "We're confident."