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Baseball prep: Esko defeats Proctor to advance to 7AA title game – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH – Esko head coach Ben Haugen sat alone under the vintage overhanging roof of Wade Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, contemplating a potentially season-defining decision.

Just three hours earlier, his club suffered a 9-0 loss to Duluth Marshall in the Section 7AA semifinals. Suddenly, Esko, the defending AA state champion, was on the ropes, facing a win-or-go-home match against Proctor in the elimination bracket.

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Esko’s Connor Pearce (14) reaches second base against Proctor’s AJ Reyelts (6) on Wednesday, June 5, at Wade Stadium in Duluth.

Clint Austin / Duluth Media Group

Haugen spent little time deciding who would start in Esko’s biggest game of the season later that afternoon. He knew he needed a reliable veteran arm to avoid elimination, and his thoughts immediately turned to Dylan Marciulionis.

“When we first told him we were going with him, he wanted us to save him,” Haugen said. “He wanted us to keep him under 30 places so he could leave tomorrow.”

Marciulionis wanted to keep his arm for a possible rematch against Duluth Marshall in the Section 7AA championship game on Thursday, but Esko wouldn’t get there if it couldn’t take care of business against Proctor on Wednesday afternoon.

“We told him, ‘We can’t play tomorrow if we don’t win today,’” Haugen recalled. “I told him, ‘You are our best option right now.’ I think he had about 80 pitches in seven innings and he was fantastic. He saved one of his best outings of the year for last.”

Haugen’s decision paid off as the senior allowed just one earned run on four hits and two walks while striking out five in seven innings of work.

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Esko’s Dylan Marciulionis (13) pitches against Proctor on Wednesday, June 5, at Wade Stadium in Duluth.

Clint Austin / Duluth Media Group

Marciulionis’ excellence led Esko to a 3-1 win against Proctor in the elimination bracket finals, setting up a rematch against Duluth Marshall in the Section 7AA championship game Thursday.

“Proctor is a very good team,” Marciulionis said. “But we were able to come out on top because we executed and did our job. There were a lot of things that worked for me today. I had good off-speed and a very good defense behind me.”

After scoring early in the bottom of the first inning to take a 1–0 lead, Esko added another run when senior Finn Furcht blasted an RBI double down the left field line and junior Sam Haugen scored from third to make it a 2-0. benefit.

Proctor came on the board in the top of the fifth to make it a one-run game, 2-1, but Esko responded in the bottom half of the frame. With the bases loaded, junior Jamis Halverson hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield that made it 3-1, a lead that Esko held on to for good.

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Proctor’s Cooper Johnson (3) shoots the ball Wednesday, June 5, against Esko at Wade Stadium in Duluth.

Clint Austin / Duluth Media Group

While Esko took advantage with timely hitting, Proctor simply never got the hit that would have put the Rails back in the game. Proctor head coach Adam Shykes said it was as simple as just not executing in the biggest moments and leaving runners behind.

“It was situational hitting,” Shykes said. “We’ve gotten better at it, but there was a period this year where that was the problem. We were getting hits and couldn’t find a way to get them in. We are very good at small ball and we had no chance to play small ball in this game.”

It didn’t help the Rails’ chances that Proctor flamethrower Nick Terhaar left the mound in the second inning with cramp problems. Senior Wyatt Mineheine pitched 4 ⅔ solid innings of relief, allowing just one hit and an earned run. Proctor never discovered his transgression.

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Esko’s Trenton Ondrus (1) looks for an out against Proctor at second base on Wednesday, June 5 at Wade Stadium in Duluth.

Clint Austin / Duluth Media Group

Proctor, who advanced into the elimination match earlier in the day after a walk-off 4-3 victory over Mora, finishes the season 14-10 overall. Esko, now 22-3, will face Duluth Marshall for the 7AA title at Wade Stadium in Duluth on Thursday at 5 p.m.

Because Esko advances from the elimination round, it will have to defeat Duluth Marshall in consecutive games to win the sectional and advance to the state tournament. The Hilltoppers only need to beat Esko once to regain the section title they won in 2022.

“We’re going to have to pitch well because Marshall isn’t going to get a strikeout,” Haugen said. “We can’t go up there thinking we have to be too good and then go for a walk with them because they are doing great.”

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Esko’s Sam Haugen (5) shoots the ball against Proctor on Wednesday, June 5, at Wade Stadium in Duluth.

Clint Austin / Duluth Media Group

Marshall is responsible for two of Esko’s three losses this season. The Hilltoppers defeated Esko 3-1 in a regular season game on May 20 before defeating Esko 9-0 on Wednesday morning.

Haugen said his team has struggled to adjust to Duluth Marshall ace Owen Marsolek, who brought an ordinary look to Esko’s talented, deep lineup this year.

“We’ll have to score points because we were quite anemic against Owen,” Haugen said. “We’ll have to put some runs on the board. Marshall is not a team that is going to give us points, we have to earn them. It will be tough.”

Marciulionis said that while Marshall has gotten the best of Esko so far this season, none of that will matter Thursday in a winner-take-all Section 7AA championship game. He is confident Esko will pull through when it matters most.

“None of that other stuff really matters right now,” Marciulionis said. “I believe in everyone on our team. I feel like tomorrow we’re going to go out there, execute it and get it done.

Reagan Hoverman

Reagan Hoverman joined the Duluth News Tribune as a sports reporter in July 2023 after covering a variety of college and collegiate sports for the better part of two years at the Pierce County Journal in Ellsworth, Wisconsin. Before that he was a news and sports reporter. at the Inter-County Leader in Frederic, Wis.

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