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Esko cruises to state tourney

After the July 25 round of the 8th District Division II American Jr. Legion playoffs, Carlton County had two local teams still in the running.

Esko was undefeated and Barnum-Moose Lake-Willow River (BMW) had one loss in the double elimination tournament - the loss coming against Esko.

Over the weekend both teams acquitted themselves well, but it was Esko prevailing in the championship with a pair of wins over Ely. BMW ended up third in the tournament.

BMW opened weekend play on Saturday with an impressive 14-9 win over Cook County. With the win, the Barnum-based team eliminated Cook County and kept their own playoff hopes alive.

"We jumped out and I have to say I never saw us hit like that," said BMW coach Shawn Bode. "We had 14 hits in the first three innings."

Tyler Juhl and Runo Larson each recorded three hits, while Eli Gilbertson and P.J. Frisch each had three runs batted in.

While BMW was winning on Saturday afternoon in the losers bracket, Esko was taking care of business in the winners bracket by beating undefeated Ely, 14-1, as Jackson Peterson tossed a five-hitter to send Esko to the championship game.

"We played well in that game," said Esko coach Nick Legarde. "We pitched well, we had quality at bats and we are peaking at the right time."

After their afternoon win over Cook County, it was BMW then waiting to play the loser of Esko and Ely. In the end, Ely advanced back into the championship bracket as it bounced BMW out of the tournament with a 10-3 win.

"We just didn't hit very well in the game against Ely," Bode said. "We had our chances to respond, but we just couldn't get anything going."

Reese Bode and Magnus Koecher both had two hits as BMW managed just five hits in the loss.

Ely advanced to play Esko on Sunday in the title game. Esko left little doubt that it was more than ready, jumping on Ely early and often as they pounded out an 11-1 win behind the strong pitching of Connor Pearce and Sam Panger.

"Connor pitched well and then Sam came in and picked up the final two outs," Legarde said. "It was the same deal as Saturday, the guys came out extremely confident. Many of them are big-time players in other sports and it shows."

For Legarde, it was a case of his players playing up to their abilities and they didn't let him down.

"We played the way we knew we could play," Legarde said. "They had expectations and they are meeting those expectations."

Esko advanced to the state tournament this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Granite Falls, where they will be one of eight teams vying for a state title.

"It will be the seven district champions along with the host team," Legarde said. "I like how we are playing and I like our chances."