John’s Journal: Northern Minnesota Baseball For The Win
After Nasty Spring, Fosston, Esko, Perham Reach State Championship Games
Posted: Friday, June 16, 2023 - 6:45 PM
The baseball teams from Fosston and Esko played in state championship games for the first time in history Friday, with both returning to their homelands in northern Minnesota with gold medals. And that aspect of the tournament cannot be overlooked … in a spring sports season that was delayed and delayed and delayed again by snow and cold and generally rotten weather, the last teams standing in Class A (Fosston) and Class 2A (Esko) hail from up north.
Esko defeated another northern team, Perham, 9-0 in the 2A title game and Fosston edged Lyle/Pacelli -- which sits a few miles north of the Iowa border near Austin -- 3-2 in the day’s opening game at CHS Field in downtown St. Paul.
It was a splendid celebration of baseball in places where winters lasts a little longer and spring arrives a little later.
“It's great to have two teams out of the north represent and realize that we play baseball pretty well up there,” said Perham coach James Mulcahy. “I'm really proud of these guys and where they've taken us.”
In Minnesota, the high school baseball season lasts for 13 weeks and teams can play a maximum of 20 regular-season games. Fosston played 18 regular-season games, Lyle/Pacelli played 19 while Esko and Perham played 20.
There are creative ways to accomplish a full schedule, often involving travel. The Perham Yellowjackets began the season playing single games at St. Charles and Chatfield, two teams in far southern Minnesota. The Esko Eskomos went to Florida during spring break, providing valuable days on outdoor fields with no giant piles of snow on the sidelines.
Some baseball teams also can use turf football fields, which Esko has. Otherwise, teams spend time indoors, in gyms or similar spaces, throwing, hitting in cages and doing drills. But it’s just not the same.
“Oh for sure,” said Esko junior pitcher Dylan Marciulionis, who held Perham to two hits while striking out nine and walking two Friday. “Hitting in the gym and going out on a turf field? Going on the football field just to play catch or long toss when it’s half-covered with snow? It's tough.”
After surviving the weather, Fosston survived a rocky Section 8 tournament to reach the state tournament. After a 14-4 regular season, the Greyhounds won three section games before losing to East Grand Forks Sacred Heart. Bounced to the elimination bracket, they defeated Ada-Borup-West to secure a rematch with Sacred Heart. Fosston, one loss from their season ending, defeated the Eagles 6-1 and 4-1 to win the section title.
“We played Sacred Heart six of the last seven years to go to state,” said Fosston coach Ryan Hanlon. “We met them in the semifinals and it was the most intense thing, it was like a state championship game. We lost to them and I think that just took the pressure off our seniors. They just said, ‘Hey, we’ve got nothing to lose.’ And we just started saying the only way we can play is one pitch at a time.
“We came back and ended up beating them twice and we said we came down here to compete; ‘Let's compete. Let's show that we can play baseball in northwest Minnesota.’ And we came out red hot in our first game and just kind of never really looked back.”
An argument can be made that spring sports in southern Minnesota have an advantage with the weather. For example, Lyle/Pacelli played its first baseball game on April 6. Fosston didn’t play a game until April 17, and five of their first six games were rescheduled due to snow and cold. Perham’s first game was held on April 13 and Esko didn’t play until April 25, nearly a month after the first allowable playing date.
“Our kids embrace being inside,” Hanlon said. “They're OK with practicing inside for five, six, seven weeks and they know that's the only practices we get. Once we got outside this year we only had three practices before our first game. They were in the gym every day and they understand that that's what you do. And we knew we could play baseball. There are some good baseball teams up in northwest Minnesota.
“There's nothing you can do about the weather and that's been our model all along: let’s control what we can control.”
A lot of days and a lot of baseball have come and gone since those early spring days of indoor workouts. Friday’s championship games came on a blue-bird day with moderate temperatures and low humidity in an outstanding setting at CHS Field.
“It seems like a long time ago, like years ago, honestly,” said Marciulionis, wearing a blue ribbon, gold medal and big smile. “It seems so long ago that we were thinking about snow.”
--Some fans from Fosston, in buses and cars, left home around 4 a.m. to be able to arrive in plenty of time for the Greyhounds’ 10 a.m. game.
--The Esko baseball team is the last one in school history to carry the Eskomos nickname. Legislation was passed in May to eliminate native nicknames, and Esko will no longer be the Eskomos as of June 30. A process for selecting a new nickname is in the planning stages.
--In the Class 3A championship game, New Prague defeated Mahtomedi 5-3.
--In the 4A title game, East Ridge edged Rosemount 1-0.
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]