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Sweet 3-peat

t060118 ---- Clint Austin --- 060218.S.DNT.ESKO.C02 ---- Kaitlyn Bergerson of Esko celebrates after tagging out a Virginia base runner in bottom of the seventh inning for the final out of the Section 7AA championship game against Virginia at Braun Park on Friday, June 1. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 5
t060118 ---- Clint Austin --- 060218.S.DNT.ESKO.C01 ---- Esko softball players celebrate after beating Virginia in the Section 7AA championship game at Braun Park in Cloquet on Friday, June 1. Esko defeated Virginia 5-2 to advance to the state tournament. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 5
t060118 --- Clint Austin --- 060618.S.DNT.ESKOSB.C04 --- Esko softball players celebrate with their trophy after defeating Virginia during the Section 7AA championship game. ---- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 5
t060118 --- Clint Austin --- 060618.S.DNT.ESKOSB.C05 --- Esko softball players celebrate with their trophy after defeating Virginia during the Section 7AA championship game. ---- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com4 / 5
t060118 --- Clint Austin --- 060618.S.DNT.ESKOSB.C01 --- Emilee Wilson of Esko pitches the ball against Virginia during the Section 7AA championship game. ---- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com5 / 5

Jenna Zdebski's smile told the story.

Zdebski couldn't help but grin from ear to earn when the once Esko slapper now turned slugger sent a ball sailing over the right field fence last Friday at Braun Park, helping pace the Eskomos past Virginia 5-2 in the Section 7AA title game and back to this week's Class AA state softball tournament.

"I thought it was a just a hit to right," said Zdebski, "but once I realized it went over, I just jumped and screamed."

Fair enough for a kid who just hit her first fence-clearing shot of any kind. You see, Zdebski has played softball for the past several summers for the local Minnesota Blast, but just this spring, decided to come out for the Eskomos' high school team. A once slap-hitter — one to get the ball on the ground and use her speed to beat out hits — Zdebski has turned into one of the Esko's most ferocious sluggers from the left side.

"She's been a breath of fresh air," third-year coach Huff Emanuel said about his outfielder, who leads the team in batting average. "She's been learning every single game."

Last week's game was the icing on the cake for the Eskomos (22-4), who after losing to the Blue Devils 3-1 on May 24, won six straight games in eight days, including beating Virginia twice in the final, and then attending their graduation just hours after hoisting their third plaque in a row.

"We made it hard on ourselves, but it showed the heart that we have," said standout pitcher Emilee Wilson, who was one of four seniors to graduate that evening, along with fellow diamond veterans Hannah Stark, Davriana Horvath and Ashley Pollema.

"Especially for us seniors, it's just one last chance to play together now," she said. "We want to make the best of it."

That certainly could be the case, as fifth-seeded Esko faces No. 4 Pipestone Area (22-2) in a rematch of last year's state quarterfinal, a game the Eskomos won 4-0 with Wilson's 13 strikeouts and pair of home runs from her and Pollema.

Esko eventually placed fourth last spring, better than their winless campaign in 2016. But now, not shocked by the big stage of Caswell Park in North Mankato, Minn., the Eskomos are eyeing up a better finish in some players' last hoorah.

"I get chills talking about it," said Wilson, who has over 600 strikeouts in her career and will play at Division II Valley City State (N.D.) next year. "I'm confident. If the bats come alive, I don't think there's anyone we can't play with in AA."

One can bet that Zdebski will surely be packing her stick.

"She's been a solid hitter for us all year long," Wilson said. "And when she hit that, we knew the game was ours."

"It took the wind right out of their sails," Emanuel said.