Prep baseball: Esko’s Haugen has baseball in his blood
With a batting average of 462 and 23 RBIs and an ERA of 0.58, the Esko junior hopes to lead his to a section title in the tournament that starts next week.
ESKO — Every time he steps on the field, Esko’s Cale Haugen can change the complexion of a game.
Whether it’s mowing down batters from the mound or generating offense with his powerful swing, the Eskomos junior has firmly established himself as one of the area’s best players.
In a game May 20 against Mora, Haugen hit home runs in consecutive innings and drove in five runs in Esko’s 15-7 win. He followed it up with a five-inning no-hitter and 11 strikeouts in a 14-0 win at Cloquet Tuesday.
Haugen is currently batting .462 with four home runs and 23 RBIs this season. He’s also walked 20 times in 72 plate appearances this season.
From the mound, he might be even more dominant. In seven starts, he hasn’t allowed more than two runs and has an ERA of 0.58 and has 73 strikeouts. In his last four starts, he’s allowed five hits and struck out at least 11 batters in each game.
“Ever since he was a little guy, the first time he picked up a bat or a golf club, he had this natural left-handed swing,” Esko coach and his father Ben Haugen said. “His mom and I were like, ‘We’re going to keep rolling with that as long as we can.’”
Ben has coached baseball since before his son was born. He recently eclipsed 250 wins and has coached baseball for 19 seasons, including four at Hinckley-Finlayson and the past 14 at Esko. Baseball has been an integral part of his son’s life and said he “hasn’t known any different.”
“It’s been my whole life,” Haugen said. “I don’t remember the first time I ever picked up a bat, but I know I was really young. Ever since I can remember, baseball’s been my favorite sport.”
Even before he was hitting a ball off a tee, Haugen was watching his father coach and spending time around the game.
“He’s always been around the game,” Ben said. “He always wanted to play catch. We’ve always gone out in the yard and thrown pop flies and ground balls or hitting wiffle balls in the backyard and taking batting practice…I think what separated him from other kids up in our neck of the woods is he has just been around baseball more than a lot of them.”
From the moment he joined the varsity squad last season, Haugen has been a major contributor. In his varsity debut in 2021, he hit a home run and a double in a win over Virginia.
Haugen was slated to join the team as a freshman in 2020, but the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even then, though, his teammates knew a special player was coming along.
“He was going to be one of our best players as a freshman and then we got canceled,” Noah Furcht said. “Going into last year, I knew he was going to be a big deal. He has a great arm, he can swing . He was totally above expectations last year — hitting seven home runs, it was ridiculous.”
Furcht was a senior last season and now plays for Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Ben said having Haugen play alongside Furcht last season helped mold his son into a better baseball player. After playing with Furcht all spring, Haugen started taking the sport a little more seriously, according to Ben, getting into the weight room and improving his overall strength and quickness.
“The weight room is a big part of it,” Haugen said. “I never really decided to go in there until probably August of last summer and it really made a huge difference with how hard I can hit the ball and how fast I can throw.”
Furcht said he tried to “lead by example” and Haugen was receptive to his advice and “took it as constructive criticism, if it was even criticism.” Even though he was a strong player last year, his development since last spring is evident in his play this season.
“As a pitcher, he’s got a great heart,” Furcht said. “He wants to strike everybody out and he’s got the pitches to do it. His off-speed pitches are incredible and knows how to throw them. As a hitter, his bat speed is unreal. He has such a great swing and he has a lot of power even though he’s not a huge kid.”
Ben says his son’s play lately, particularly on the mound, has been “lights out” and even though Esko (16-3) is young, they have the potential to be a contender for the Section 7AA title when the tournament starts next week even though weather this spring has limited their practice time outdoors.
“We don’t play a senior, we’re juniors, sophomores and one freshman,” I think we’ve exceeded expectations a little bit, but I think this team has a chance to be really good. We just have to put some things together and have a chance to practice.”
While Haugen has a few individual goals, his focus is on getting his team to the section championship and, hopefully, even moving on to the Class AA state tournament next month.
“I just hope to keep pitching at the pace that I am,” Haugen said. “I’m on a roll right now and I hope to keep it going. Other than that, I just need trust myself and trust my teammates. I think if we as a team can just believe in ourselves — even though we’re young, I think we can make a run.”