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Baseball playoff results a mixed bag

The summer baseball season is slowly creeping towards the sunset. While the Senior American Legion has come to a close for our local teams, the Junior American Legion and VFW age playoffs are just ramping up.

Esko did not field a team in the Senior American Legion playoffs due to a lack of numbers. Cloquet, on the other hand, did field a very young senior team, which dropped its first two games of the playoffs last week.

Cloquet opened against one of the top seeds in the tournament on the road in Grand Rapids. Rapids took the game 12-3 by opening with six runs in the first two innings of play to put Cloquet in a deep hole early. Grand Rapids led 7-1 after three innings, but Cloquet cut the lead to 7-3 in the top of the fourth after scoring a pair of runs to inch closer. Unfortunately, Grand Rapids came out in the fifth inning and added four runs, then tacked on a single tally in the bottom of the sixth to take a 12-3 lead. That was the final score.

On Wednesday, Cloquet faced another tough local squad in Round 2 of the double-elimination tournament when they took on Duluth Lakeview. Lakeview rushed to an 11-0 lead after three innings. The youthful Cloquet nine responded with five runs in the top of the fifth inning to pull to within 11-5, but Lakeview answered with one in the bottom of the fifth and then added three in the bottom of the sixth to take the 15-5 win and send the winless Cloquet team home for the summer.

"I told the kids I had to give them credit that they kept fighting all season," said Cloquet coach Tyler Olin. "I also told them that all their hard work would pay off in a year or two."

Olin was alluding to the team's including six sophomores and five juniors on the 15-man roster. That nucleus of players will be back to play for Cloquet High School, where Olin coaches, next spring.

"We knew this summer would be tough," Olin said. "To the guys' credit, they just kept grinding and worked hard, got in their at-bats. For all the guys that were here this summer, they got better because of it."

While the Senior Legion season is over for Cloquet and Esko, the younger-aged VFW and Junior Legion teams are just getting started in their playoffs.

Esko opened play in the Junior Legion tournament in Ely on Tuesday night with a win over Taconite in a game.

"We won 6-3 and didn't play our best game of the year," said Esko coach Jordan Balow. "We just kind of grinded things out and found a way to win."

The Eskomos relied on timely hitting and three errors by Taconite to get the win.

"Sam Haugen went 3 for 4 and had a pair of RBIs," said Balow from Ely. "Ty Christensen added two hits including a double, so between the two of them they had five of our six hits. We will need to hit better than we did against Taconite if we want to move on in the tournament.

Esko will now play on Friday night against the winner of the Ely vs. Virginia game.

While Esko has chosen to play in the Junior Legion tournament, the Cloquet program has stayed with the VFW tournament. Cloquet, the No. 6 seed, will not open their tournament until Saturday, when they play the No. 3 seed West Duluth in the six-team tournament in Grand Rapids.

"We are excited for the playoffs and to see what we can do," said Cloquet VFW coach Rick Sievert. "We have some younger kids who are getting used to the higher level of play this summer."

As for the importance of playing summer ball, Sievert says it is just another step in the process of developing players.

"Summer ball is really important to development, because anytime you can get reps you are learning and developing," said Sievert. "We've got 15 kids rostered, but we are usually missing a few. Our kids and families are getting in vacations that they missed out on last year and many of them also have jobs."

Now that the vacations are done, and playoffs have begun, the coaches are just hoping they can make a nice run down the stretch.

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