Revival rally isn't enough for Eskomos


June 2, 2023

Dave Harwig

Clara Swanson watches Esko shortstop Bailey Plante make a running catch of a popup behind third base during Tuesday's Section 7AA softball playoff game with Rush City. The game in Cloquet was the highlight of the season as Esko made a ferocious comeback after being down 9-0 in their last at-bat. The Eskomos won 12-10 in extra innings.

The Section 7AA softball tournament opened May 23 with Esko pulling out a convincing 12-1 victory over Two Harbors. That was the first of many games for Esko over the next week as they tried to get a berth back to the state tournament.

But a spirited assault through the losers bracket wasn't enough, as Esko fell to Rock Ridge after reaching the championship with a state berth on the line.

Still, a 12-10 comeback win for the ages against Rush City left Esko with something to remember.

"I've never seen anything like that in a pressure situation - to continue to have quality at-bats and to just keep it rolling was incredible," said Esko coach Huff Emanuel of a comeback win down 9-0 in the seventh.

On Thursday, May 25, the Eskomos entered the double-elimination portion of the AA tournament by playing Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin. Esko entered the game as the No. 5 seed with GNK the No. 4 seed, but it was the Eskomos who came out with an impressive 6-1 win.

Following their morning victory over GNK, Esko took on No. 1 seed Rock Ridge, who defeated the Eskomos 9-0.

The loss sent Esko into the losers bracket on Tuesday against the same team they beat last Thursday - GNK. The Eskomos exploded for 17 hits and scored 13 runs in taking an impressive 13-6 victory. Both Avery Kuklinski and Clara Swanson hit inside-the-park homers for Esko. Kaelyn Foxx pitched the Eskomos to the win.

The win pushed Esko into a game against No. 3 seeded Rush City, which had dispatched No. 7 International Falls earlier in the day.

Esko was unable to maintain its hitting pace early in the game against the Tigers. Rush City pitcher Grace Folkema had a no-hitter heading into the top of the sixth inning before giving up a single to Bailey Plante.

Folkema was taken out after six innings with her team leading 9-0. At that point she had 15 strikeouts. It looked like the game was going to be an easy win for Rush City.

That pitching change turned out to be costly. Esko took advantage of the Tigers' second pitcher by stringing together five hits and two walks while scoring five runs to cut the lead to 9-5 to start the top of the seventh inning.

After Bailey Plante doubled to cut the gap to four runs, the Tigers brought Folkema back in to get the final two outs, but the Eskomos were able to keep the momentum. Esko eventually tied the game on a passed ball, sending the game to the bottom of the seventh tied at 9-9.

"I told the girls when we were coming to bat in the top of the seventh, 'Whatever you do, don't roll over and die,'" said Esko coach Huff Emanuel. "We got rolling against their No. 2 pitcher and then when they brought their No. 1 pitcher back, it just kept rolling. I can't explain it."

Pitcher Keira Leach, who had relieved Foxx earlier in the game, kept the Eskomos in the game and was also aided in the bottom of the seventh by a big catch in the outfield by Foxx.

"Keira fought hard for us and then to have Foxx make a couple of great catches in left field was amazing," Emanuel said. "Leach just buckled down and gave us a chance."

Neither team scored in the eighth inning, but in the top of the ninth Liz Hartlieb tripled to lead off the inning. Hannah Swanson then bunted and stole second, putting runners at second and third. Clara Swanson later ripped a double to plate the two runs, giving the Eskomos their first lead at 11-9. Alayna Peterson then singled to push the lead to 12-9 entering the bottom of the ninth.

The leadoff batter in the bottom of the ninth, Katelyn Hemming, hit a home run to cut the lead to 12-10. Leach then got the next two batters to ground out before issuing a walk, and finally getting Mackenzie Ribich on a comebacker to the mound, giving Esko the 12-10 win.

Folkema struck out 22 batters in the loss.

"That's crazy," said Emanuel of the 22 strikeouts. "I mean when you think about it - we struck out 22 times and we were down 9-0 and yet we still won that game. That's incredible and it just shows how resilient our kids were. They just wouldn't quit."

Dave Harwig

Esko's Clara Swanson gets a hit during Tuesday's softball playoff game against Rush City.

The win put the Eskomos into another match up with Rock Ridge for a championship berth, also on Tuesday. This time Esko got ahead 3-0 after a half inning of play, but the Wolverines scored nine times in the bottom of the first inning to gain a 9-3 lead. Esko never recovered and the Wolverines went on to eliminate the Eskomos 16-3.

"Both our pitchers were gassed," Emanuel said. "They struggled finding their spots and then Rock Ridge just started hammering the ball. I credit our kids and our pitchers for how they fought all day, but Rock Ridge was just better in that last game."

The 7AA championship game between Rock Ridge and No. 2 seeded Proctor was set for 4 p.m. Thursday at Braun Park, after this issue of the Pine Knot News went to press.


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2024