Esko Legion makes first trip to state

A spring of unreached promise has turned into a summer of realized potential. Esko has reached the Minnesota American Legion Division II baseball tournament for the first time thanks to a victory in the double-elimination Section 8 tournament las...

A spring of unreached promise has turned into a summer of realized potential.

Esko has reached the Minnesota American Legion Division II baseball tournament for the first time thanks to a victory in the double-elimination Section 8 tournament last weekend.

Esko will play Pelican Rapids in its first-ever state tournament game at 4 p.m. Friday in LeSueur.

It came down to one game for all the marbles, as the host team Ely came through the losers' bracket to force a second and deciding game thanks to a 4-3 win. Esko came back with a 13-7 win in the second game to earn the trip downstate.

It all started on Tuesday with a win against Aurora, but the tournament started in earnest on Friday with a matchup against sixth-seeded Moose Lake.


It didn't start well for Esko. Moose Lake took a 3-0 lead in the first inning on four hits and an error, but Esko replied in the bottom of the inning with five runs of their own.

The first six Esko batters reached base with Mitch Reuer's two-run double, putting Esko into the lead. Moose Lake then tied the game in the second, and took a 7-5 lead in the fourth.

Esko scored again in the bottom of the fifth with Jamie Stokes and Stevie Lewis stealing bases to help the cause. Moose Lake had an 8-6 lead going into the sixth when Esko erupted for nine runs to salt the game away. First baseman Matt Tengesdal reached on a blooper to short right, and was then followed by the next nine Esko batters reaching base to blow the game wide open. The final score was 15-9.

"This game was not one of our best games, but credit went out to the boys for staying strong, and keeping the fight in them against a strong ML-B team," Esko coach Jeff Emanuel said. "Yet I can't say enough about (pitcher) Ryan Reed....He knew we needed him to eat up some innings and he did it."

Saturday's games brought a matchup against third-seed Nashwauk-Keewatin, with Jamie Stokes and Steve Lewis combining to produce the first run, with Lewis driving in Stokes on a sharp single to left field.

Esko pitcher Mitch Reuer gave up a run in the second but soon settled down until the sixth, when N-K reached him for two runs. However, Esko's resiliency showed through as Cody Townsend started the last of the frame with the first homer of his career, followed by three consecutive hits, capped by Reuer's two-run single. Brett Johnson then bunted for another hit, capping a six-run inning and staking Esko to a 7-3 lead. Reuer did the rest, finishing up a three-hitter, all three N-K runs being unearned, in the 7-3 triumph.

With the first game out of the way, Esko sent Tengesdal to the mound against defending district champion Ely in a rematch of the 2008 championship game.

This time defense was better and the pitchers matched zeroes on the scoreboard until a pair of Esko miscues allowed Ely to take a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Townsend and Stokes started a two out rally with singles in the last of the inning and RBI singles by Lewis and Reed capped a three-run rally.


Ely reached Tengesdal for three runs in the sixth for a 4-3 win, despite being outhit 10-5 by Esko for the game.

That set up a winner-take-all second game.

"The momentum had shifted and Ely was now the home team," Emanuel said. "They (our players) were upset, knowing they blew a chance with Tengesdal pitching. They had 30 minutes to think about what happened."

The second game started with Lewis pitching for Esko. Lewis hit two of the first three batters he faced before settling down.

R.J. Jubie opened the scoring for Esko with a clutch two-run, two-out single in the second inning, opening up the floodgates.

In the third inning, Tengesdal, Stokes, Lewis, Reuer and Vang all picked up hits as Esko plated four on the way to a 6-1 lead. They kept up the pressure in the fourth, pouring on six more to put the game effectively out of reach.

Tengesdal hit his first career home run, and five of the six Esko runs came with two out, on a walk, four straight singles and an Ely error to make it 12-2 at the time.

Lewis, for his part, went the distance, allowing seven runs and eight hits in just his third outing of the season.


Reuer paced Esko offensively with four hits and a walk.

For the tournament, Stokes hit a remarkable .650 on 13-for-20 with eleven runs batted in, but that took second to Reuer, who was 10-for-14 (.700) for the event. Lewis hit .555 (5-for-9) and reached base fourteen times in the tourney thanks to seven walks and being hit twice by pitches. Townsend was 7-for-17 with a home run.

And now it's off to state.

"Seeing the boys hold that big trophy up almost brought tears to my eyes," Emanuel said.

The state event starts July 31 at Bruce Frank Field in LeSueur. The team to beat will be Jordan, six-time defending District 3 champion, and more importantly, the four-time defending Division II state champion. In the bottom half of the bracket, Esko will matchup against Section 9 champ Pelican Rapids.

Emanuel, though, gets the last word on his team's run to state.

"It was awesome," he said.

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