State champion Esko looking for a repeat

 

April 12, 2024

Dave Harwig

Esko players celebrate winning the Class AA State Baseball Championship in June 2023

Big-time pitching carried Esko to its first Class AA high school state baseball championship last spring. Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year Cale Haugen graduated, but the team will lean on pitchers Finn Furcht and Dylan Marciulionis to make another run.

The three combined to limit three opponents to just six hits at state, as Esko clipped St. Agnes 1-0, Cannon Falls 7-2 and Perham 9-0 in the final at CHS Field in St. Paul.

"We needed Cale to be great in the opener, which he was, in one of his best outings in a monster season, and Finn and Dylan followed with two-hitters. Unbelievable pitching performances," said Esko head coach Ben Haugen, who got to coach both his sons - Cale and Sam - last year.

Esko finished 26-1.

"We've had some excellent teams at Esko, for sure, but last year's team was special," Haugen said.

Along with a still healthy pitching rotation, six positional starters from last year are taking the field this spring. Esko is ranked first in most of the state Class AA preseason polls, with neighbors and regular season opponents Duluth Marshall and Proctor among the top teams.

"I don't care about rankings, because they don't mean anything," said Haugen, who begins his 18th season at Esko. "Duluth Marshall returns everyone from a really good team last season, and Proctor returns junior pitcher Nick Terhaar."

Furcht, Marciulionis and Sam Haugen will lead another deep Esko pitching staff. Top returning position players include catcher Bryce Hipp, third baseman Isaak Sertich and second baseman Trent Ondrus, all seniors. Haugen will start at shortstop or in center field and Furcht in right field when he's not pitching.

"We've got a strong group of baseball-first, highly-athletic guys who have enjoyed good success since Little League and have played higher level ball," coach Haugen said. "We could see these three strong classes coming up with last year's seniors and this year's juniors and sophomores."

After postponing its first three scheduled games due to weather and field conditions, Esko beat South Ridge 7-3 Monday in Culver in its first official game of the season. The defending state champions are expected to take a southern Minnesota swing in Fairmont on Friday and Luverne Saturday, April 12-13.

"While we do have a big arm and some good bats to replace in our lineup, the experience last year's underclassmen received last year should pay dividends this spring," Haugen said. "This group has had success in travel ball, high school and in Legion tournaments. Two returning pitchers earned wins in the state tourney last spring. We'll compete hard for Polar League and 7AA titles. But, as always, we will need some breaks to go our way."

Esko's home opener is scheduled for next Friday against Duluth Marshall.

 
 

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