Esko rebounds for state consolation title


August 11, 2023

It was a tough draw. When Esko opened the Division II Minnesota State Junior Legion Baseball Tournament last Friday in Granite Falls against Morris, most baseball observers felt that the top two teams in the state were squaring off in the opening round.

“We really felt that Morris and us were the top two teams,” said Esko coach Nick Legarde. “It was just too bad that we had to meet each other in the first game, but that’s how things played out.”

After jumping to a 2-0 lead early in the quarterfinal, Esko couldn’t hang on, falling 3-2 in what became a pitchers’ duel. Esko went on to easily win the consolation title while Morris won the championship.

Esko pitcher Jackson Peterson did not give up an earned run to Morris and things were looking good.

“We had a 2-0 lead after the second inning,” Legarde said. “They chipped away and finally managed to get us at the end.”

Jayce Koskela doubled home a run in the second inning and eventually scored on a wild pitch to give Esko the early lead.

Morris responded in the third, scoring after Esko failed to complete an inning-ending double play.

Another costly error in the fifth inning led to two more for the 29ers. After a rough second inning, Morris starter Jonah Huebner allowed just one more hit and struck out 10 Esko batters. Esko’s Jace Koskala went 2-for-3 hitting with a double, a run and an RBI.

After the opening-round loss, Esko dropped into the consolation bracket and Legarde had to challenge his team after the disappointment against Morris.

“I just told them that we couldn’t do anything about the loss, but we needed to show teams just how good we are by going out and playing the way we really can and we did that in the next two games,” Legarde said.

Esko moved into the consolation round and manhandled Rushford-Peterson by a 10-1 score behind another solid pitching effort, this time by Sam Panger.

“Everybody got in the game for us and everyone played well,” Legarde said. “Sam (Panger) pitched well and our first three guys scored in the first inning which really set the tone and it allowed the flood gates to open.”

Panger not only pitched well in game two, but offensively he was a force by going 6-for-7 at the plate.

“He had a great performance all weekend and he was the No. 7 hitter in our lineup,” Legarde said.

In the consolation championship Esko easily downed Parkers Prairie by a 10-3 score as Connor Pearce took the mound and let his team take a big lead early in the game.

“Connor didn’t give up any runs early and he allowed only four hits which allowed us to build a nice lead,” Legarde said.

Panger led the hit parade with three singles.

“The first game in the tournament against Morris really felt like the championship game,” Legarde said. “After the loss the guys really stepped up and we wanted to make a statement and I think we did that.”

Esko was third in the tournament last summer. After the Esko High School team won the state AA tournament early in the summer, and now after a consolation state Legion championship this summer, it appears as if Esko is on the verge of building a dynasty.

“I think this summer will help build a lot of momentum for next spring,” Legarde said. “The guys played a ton of ball this summer, they grinded things out and I am proud of them.”


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