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Esko rebounds, takes third at State

State champs are dethroned in semifinals

Top-seeded Esko got off to a strong start in its quest for back-to-back Class AA baseball state championships with a 3-2 quarterfinal win over Montevideo on June 13 at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud.

A 4-0 semifinal loss to Foley the next day, also at Dick Putz, foiled Esko’s state title aspirations.

But Esko responded immediately afterwards with a workmanlike 4-1 win over Le Sueur-Henderson in the third-place game.

Esko jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning in the quarterfinal against Montevideo. It held on for the 3-2 win.

Sam Haugen led off with a double and got home on a Bobby Thornton triple. Thornton came across as Connor Pearce stole second and then Bryce Hipp drove in Pearce.

That was Esko’s last hit of the game as 15 Esko batters went down in order to end the game.

Pitcher Finn Furcht admitted he didn’t have his best stuff in the opener, but he was crafty enough to get the win and save Esko’s other pitchers for the rest of the tournament.

Scoreless innings would haunt the team in the semifinal against Foley as Esko left 13 runners stranded in the 4-0 loss.

Things broke open in the third-place game as Isaak Sertich went 3-for-4 with an RBI. Jackson Peterson pushed across two runs with hits while getting the win on the mound, allowing just three hits.

Esko finished its season 26-4 overall.

“It’s easy to say we’re disappointed because we didn’t repeat (as state champion), but third-place is great,” Esko coach Ben Haugen said in an interview Tuesday. “Not many teams get to end their season with a win, as we did, and I’m proud of how this team lost a tough game [a 9-0 loss to Duluth Marshall], and fought back to win the Section [7AA] title. They were a fun group of kids to be around, they really enjoyed being together on the field and off, and I couldn’t be more proud of this year’s team.”

Haugen said he expects next year’s team to again challenge for Polar League and Section 7AA championships.

“We won’t be the type of team we’ve been the last two years, with high-end pitching and guys who could hit the ball out of the park,” Haugen said. “We’ll return two elite pitchers, Sam Haugen and Jackson Peterson, and veteran positionals Bobby Thornton and Jamis Halverson. Six guys saw significant varsity time, and a strong group of JV players will move up to varsity.”

Senior serenades

Haugen on Esko’s graduating seniors:

Trenton Ondrus: “His dad coached their teams through the Little League and traveling team ranks. Our second baseman, Trenton, is a heady baseball player, knows the game well and had a nice career for us.”

Isaak Sertich: “Isaak was our emotional leader — charismatic, intense and competitive — and held the team together, especially this year. He was a solid third baseman, a streaky hitter who had some big swings in his career.”

Tallon Kiminski: “The ultimate team-first guy who was instrumental in bringing everyone together. He’s coaching the junior American Legion team this summer, and I believe he wants to continue to coach. He’ll be a great coach.”

Finn Furcht: “In terms of improvement and preparation, he’s the best I’ve had. He improved in each of his four varsity seasons, and I’d rank him in the top five all-time most talented players I’ve coached in my 18 years at Esko.”

Bryce Hipp: “Bryce is the hardest-working kid I’ve coached. Through hard work, including in the weight room, he made himself into a good catcher and one of the best catchers in the state.”

Dylan Marciulionis: “Dylan was our DH when he didn’t pitch. He had some big hits and pitching efforts in big games in his career. He was almost unhittable when he got his split-finger working. He was a hardworking, good team-first player.”

Declan Sullivan: “I’ll always remember talking to Declan before the third-place game, how we would approach the game and that I wanted to start all of our seniors. He said, ‘Coach, it’s OK to start someone other than me if it helps us win the game.’ Then he had a solid single in his first at-bat and made a great catch in left field.”