HIBBING — Although it wasn’t pretty, the Hibbing American Legion baseball team will take the win.
Post No. 222 let a three-run lead slip away by giving up three runs to Esko in the top of the fifth inning Thursday to tie the game at 7-7, but then Hibbing rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom half of the sixth inning and it held on from there to come away with a 9-7 victory in action at Nyberg Field in Hibbing.
Esko used a Hibbing error in the first inning to take the early lead. James LaGarde had a RBI double in the inning for Esko.
Post No. 222 retaliated with a three-spot in the bottom of the first inning to lead 3-1. Hayden Westerberg had a RBI single in the inning while Travis Erickson drove in another with a ground out. The third run of the inning scampered home on a wild pitch from Esko pitcher LaGarde.
Esko nicked Hibbing starting pitcher Eli Sundquist for three runs in the top of the third inning to take a 4-3 lead. Peyton Koskela had a two-run double in the inning while Dawson Hoffman had a run-scoring single.
Hibbing immediately regained the lead by tallying three more runs in the bottom of the third inning with the benefit of just one hit. Erickson drove in one run with a fielder’s choice ground out while Danny Rusten drove in another with a sacrifice fly. The third run scored on a balk as Post No. 222 led 6-4.
Post No. 222 added another run in the fourth inning when Sundquist reached on an error and scored on a double by Westerberg.
Sundquist ran into control problems in the fifth inning as four walks and a single added up to three runs as Esko tied the game at 7-7. Koskela and Dane Hoffman both walked with the bases loaded to drive in runs while another scored on a ground out off the bat of Eli Erickson.
Hibbing regained the lead for good with two runs in the sixth inning. Ryne Sampson scored what proved to be the winning run when Sundquist got into a rundown between first and second base and Sampson took off and was able to beat the throw to the plate. The other run came home on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Westerberg.
Noah Vinopal, who came on in relief of Sundquist in the sixth inning, shut down Esko in the bottom half of the inning as Hibbing came away with the 9-7 victory.
“Credit to Esko because they put balls in play and they put pressure on us,” said Hibbing coach Adam Schafer. “It’s not like we were booting the all around or anything like that. But the resiliency was good to see on our end. We ran the bases aggressively and we returned the favor and put some pressure on them.
“Then our guys closed it out in the seventh and that’s a credit to Noah (Vinopal) for throwing strikes and getting outs.”
Schafer said the eventual winning run scored by Sampson was nice to see, although it didn’t occur like he thought it would.
“That was actually supposed to be a steal but we got an early jump and the pitcher stepped off. Eli (Sundquist) did exactly what he was supposed to do in that situation by getting in a rundown and then getting back to first. Lucky for us Sampson had a good read and when he saw the ball pop out he hustled down the line and scored the go-ahead run.”
Sundquist, in pitching the first five innings, allowed seven runs on five hits while walking six and striking out eight. Vinopal, in picking up the win, pitched two innings and allowed no runs on one hit while walking one and fanning one.
LaGarde pitched the first four innings for Esko and allowed seven runs on four hits while walking five and striking out three. Hunter Sunde took the loss and hurled the final two innings and allowed two runs on one hit while walking three and striking out two.
Durie walked three times, scored two runs and stole two bases for Hibbing and Westerberg was 3-for-3 with a double and a walk, scored two runs and drove in three. Vinopal had a hit and scored a pair of runs while Codieh Powers had a double and walked twice, Erickson had two RBIs and scored a run.
Josh Bolgrean walked three times and scored two runs for Esko while Noah Furcht also scored two runs. LaGarde had three hits with a double, scored two runs and drove in one and Koskela had a double and three RBIs.
With the win, Hibbing improves to 2-2 for the season.
“This spring Esko was the Class 7AA runner-up so it was good to get a win over a quality opponent,” Schafer said. Post No. 222 will play West Duluth on Tuesday and then the team will play in the Grand Rapids Tournament during the weekend.
“I think the biggest thing is we need to improve on picking the ball up on defense,” Schafer explained. “When we start booting the ball around is when we get into trouble. If we pick up the ball and eliminate the walks, our offense is doing well. Westy (Westerberg) is swinging a hot stick and our top of the order is really setting the table for the rest of the squad and that’s good to see.”
Esko 103 030 0—7 6 3
Hibbing 303 102 x—9 5 2
Esko: James LaGarde, Hunter Sunde (5th) (L) and Dawson Hoffman; Hibbing: Eli Sundquist, Noah Vinopal (6th) (W) and Danny Rusten; 2B-James LaGarde, Peyton Koskela, Hayden Westerberg, Codieh Powers.