Esko cruises to state title game
June 16, 2023
The Esko baseball team is on the verge of a state championship after two wins in the Minnesota Class AA Baseball Tournament in St. Cloud. Esko was set to meet Perham at 1 p.m. Friday at CHS Field in St. Paul, where championship games in all four classes are being played.
Esko was powered to a win in the semifinal against Cannon Falls Wednesday by a grand slam homer by Issac Sertich in the fourth inning. Esko had stormed back after being down 2-0 early and got a 7-2 win.
Getting the jitters out
After demolishing Mora 16-6 in the Section 7AA championship game, things were a little more challenging as Esko on Tuesday played its first state game since 2000. After a nearly two-hour delay in the start time due to an extra-inning game, anxiety was at a peak in the seventh inning as Esko hung on to a precarious 1-0 lead over St. Agnes at the Minnesota Class AA Baseball Tournament in St. Cloud.
With the Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year Cale Haugen cruising on the mound, Esko, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, suddenly had reason to sweat. At the top of the seventh, St. Agnes lead-off batter Andrew Chlebeck hit a bomb out of the ballpark. Fortunately the ball screamed into foul territory.
"It was a heart stopper, I thought it was gone because the kid hammered the pitch," said Esko coach Ben Haugen. "We all jumped out of the dugout to get a look at it, but I was happy it went foul, that's for sure."
Chlebeck did manage to get the next ball into play and reach first base, giving the Aggies a chance. Chlebeck was bunted to second and with one out, the Aggies were knocking at the door.
Fortunately for Esko fans, they had Haugen on the mound. The Esko senior struck out the next batter to make it two outs with a runner on second. The next batter hit a fly ball that was caught and appeared to end the game, but the umpires said Haugen had balked on the play. That advanced the runner to third and the batter was able to get back to the plate with a count of one ball and one strike. Haugen then took over on the final two pitches as he notched his 12th strikeout, and Esko landed a semifinal berth Wednesday afternoon.
They met Cannon Falls and cruised to the championship.
In that opening game against St. Agnes, Esko gained its 1-0 lead when Dylan Marciulionis was hit by a pitch and then bunted to second on a sacrifice bunt by Bobby Thornton. The ball was misplayed, allowing Marciulionis to reach third.
"Once Dylan got to third with only one out, we had a contact play on," said Coach Haugen. "I told him he is going home if it is anywhere in the infield except the third baseman. Connor Pearce got a grounder to the right side and that was enough to get the run."
That run was important as the Aggies pitcher, Andrew Weber, was nearly as efficient as Cale Haugen.
"We knew that the lefty was crafty, but he was better than advertised," Coach Haugen said. "We only had four hits and they only had two, so to get that one run was big."
The four hits for Esko were recorded by Sam Haugen, Finn Furcht, Ty Christensen and Bryce Hipp.
Coach Haugen also singled out his team's defense and the catching of Bryce Hipp behind the plate as big reasons for the win.
"The guys played well behind Cale, and Bryce is so good behind the plate," Haugen said. "Even with that runner on third at the end of the game, Cale was comfortable with throwing a breaking ball with Bryce behind the plate."
"We don't care who we play," Haugen said. "I have a lot of pitchers who are ready to show what they can do. We had to pitch Cale to get the first game win, and now it is up to the other guys to show just how good they are."
They will be on the biggest stage of all.